Monday, May 10, 2010

Let 1 + 1 become eleven

Let 1 + 1 become eleven (Checked on 15-08-2012)
-- Leena Mehendale
This started in 1991. I was experimenting with the computers, especially for Marathi typing. Always intrigued by the fact that the key-board for English typing was not arranged as per the order of the alphabets and hence took long to memorize, I was almost resigned to the idea that I may not have further will-power to make equal efforts to learn marathi typing – again on a key-board that took long to memorize. The Marathi softwares then available in market, such as ShabdRatna and Akshar and all others had the same layout as the popular Godrej type-writer. No doubt it made life easy for those who were in the job of Marathi typist and could smoothly change over from typing on machine to typing on computers, it made the task difficult for newcomers like me.

I was, naturally, delighted when I was shown a new Marathi typing software GYST in which an additional ingenious key-board layout was available which made it very simple, nay, it did not necessitate any memorizing of the key-board. This was called the INSCRIPT layout. All I had to remember was my lesson of Marathi alphabets of standard 1, namely, ka, kha, ga, and so on. This layout had all consonants in serial order on right-hand side and all vowels, again in serial order on left-hand side. It was very easy to understand and remember this logic and soon I acquired a good speed for Marathi typing.

I was then on deputation to GoI as director Naturopathy and needed staff that could handle both English and Hindi. When I insisted that they learn my method, one clerk pointed out that he will need to pass the departmental typing exam that will have to be taken with typewriter on which this simplified key-board layout will not be available. I managed by assuring that I would certify that they knew Hindi typing and we will seek exemption for them. This method worked and I soon forgot that the regular problem needed a regular solution for thousands of staff rather than this personalized solution for my small staff at the Institute of Naturopathy.

Years passed, my jobs kept changing. Came 2007 and one of my clerks started telling me woes of having to attend Marathi typing class so that he could pass this departmental exam for Marathi typing without which his promotion prospects were restricted.. For practice, the class teacher used old typewriters as that was still the norm for examination. On the other hand, in office he was required to work on computers. I told him the disadvantages of practicing on typewriters. They need hard key strikes whereas the computer keyboard requires soft touch. So a person learning on typewriters is likely to damage the keyboard. Secondly he was deprived of the training for using the back-space key to delete, a facility rampantly used in computers. Without the practice to use backspace he was later on likely to need more time on computer. Most importantly, what about the much extra time he needed to spend on Marathi typewriter while he was definitely being deprived of a chance to learn Marathi typing with a simpler method using INSCRIPT layout? He just smiled – “madam, it is for my seniors to understand this and introduce Changes, I will simply follow what rules have been given to me for today”.

Then came my chance. Once, while temporarily holding charge of principle Secretary for Bhasha directorate I discussed elaborately with those officers. They were in-charge for conducting Marathi typing examinations for those clerks and typists and steno-typists who did not possess a certificate of proficiency in Marathi typing. At first they were aghast at the suggestion that they should allow typing examination on an instrument (computers) that allowed a chance to the examinees to correct their mistakes on-spot by using Back-space Key. The marks are deducted by counting mistakes made on a typewriter, so on a computer everyone would get 100 per cent marks! How will that evaluation be proper?

It took some time but I persuaded them to think of the fallacy in their worry. Yes, an examinee can correct mistakes then and there, but firstly, let us understand this as an asset. That is the habit he is going to need for all future typing on computers. Secondly, if his mistakes are more, he will lose time in correcting them. He should therefore, be evaluated by restricting his time for completing the exercise rather than by mistakes made. This means even the examiners will need a different orientation which can be given by explaining them this new method through an elaborate letter.

But the real question was why introduce a new system and assume the responsibility to organize an entirely new event? There were thousand small small apprehensions and as usual not much incentive to carry out something new. Still I have to give them credit that they agreed to discuss possible solutions and finally carried out the experiment successfully.

Their first worry was that while in earlier arrangement, the examinees were asked to bring their own typewriters, it would now become their worry to manage 5-6 computers for the day of examination. They were almost sure that they will not be able to manage this. Yet they agreed to request the divisional commissioner office to spare 5 computers for the day of the examination. It turned out that the commissioner office or a college which was selected for venue of the examination were readily aggreable to arrange for computers for these examinations. With two batches of examinations having been held with computers, we can assume that holding Marathi typing examination on computers has become a norm. and this new system will survive.

We must congratulate our Bhasha Directorate because so far Maharashtra is the only state to conduct Marathi typing examination on computers. With that comes the possibility that those who have to learn Marathi typing will learn it by using the choice of INSCRIPT layout rather than the normal typewriter layout. This will make the learning far easier. All other States as well as Hindi direcorate for central govt. conduct departmental typing exam on typewriters and thus will remain far behind in learning this simpler method. Incidently, this layout is available for all Indian scripts and is exactly the same for all.

Most of IAS officers can type English on computers and hardly any of them can type Marathi. Some have learnt the trick of typing Marathi by using Roman keys and using google-transliteration facility that itself converts the Roman into devnagari script. They call it Unicode method or phonetic. In this method you write “Tum aaj jaldi ghar  jana” and it will be rendered in Devnagari on the screen. They find it easy as they have willi-nilli long back learnt English key-board. But it is a bad substitute and all the clerical staff cannot become comfortable with this method. The INSCRIPT layout is even more easier to understand and adopt. Only when you try it you realise how easy it is. The ism software for Marathi available on all computers in all govt offices has the option of both Typewriter layout and the INSCRIPT layout. Senior officers must spend just half an hour to see for themselves how easy the INSCRIPT layout is. Then they can guide their staff properly by telling them to practise with this layout rather than the time-consuming traditional layout.

There are often complaints that No website of Maharashtra govt departments is readable in Marathi. Similar are the complaints about the Hindi version of the GOI websites. This has even become a sore point with the RTI Commissioner. The reason is simple. All typing is done with DVBTTSurekh font which being non-standard, is not internet compatible. Making pdf files is once again a bad option.To be internet compatible we need unicode standard fonts such as Mangal for Hindi and Marathi. Similar INSCRIPT fonts exist for all indian languages on windows7 opperating system. On all new govt computers this font is available but it needs typing by INSCRIPT method. As senior officers fail to guide their staff to this requirement, we see govt websites not working properly with Marathi.

The desk officers of GAD's desk 16-B have done a good job. On homepage of GAD's site there is a link for desk 16-B ( BC cell). On that is uploaded an article on “how to learn Marathi typing in 15 minutes”, and a video clip for demonstration. A small effort, but it was worth it considering the number of staff who approached the desk officer for more enlightenment.

If seniors persue their own separate methods or priorities and leave the juniors to take care of routine govt programs, we get a value worth one plus one which is often 2 units. But if they can have a periodical dialogue, a common purpose of learning and acting together for solving problems through new technologies and new methodologies, then we can get a value of one plus one equalling to eleven units. It is only with such efforts we can achieve something for Hindi, Marathi and other Indian languages that are the Rajbhasha of their respective states.
Written in this golden-jubilee year of Maharashtra.

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