Or, where we talk about digital future of the Bengali language

ABP Pvt Ltd has a history that goes back to 1922.

From the website

“In 1922, Anandabazar Patrika first came out as a four-page evening daily that sold at two paise and had a circulation of about 1,000 copies a day. Eighty-five years later, Anandabazar Patrika reaches out to over seven million readers, every day!

Today, the ABP Group has evolved into a media conglomerate that has eleven premier publications, three 24-hour national TV news channels, two leading book publishing businesses as well as mobile and internet properties. Touching the lives of millions of readers and viewers, daily.

We believe the legacy you leave, is the life you lead. We see ourselves as repositories of best practices and processes. And, at times, when we don’t have the very best within, we open windows to look out for expertise. Not surprisingly, ABP is associated with companies and personalities revered across the world.

In the world of journalism, we are not just a media house. We are really an alma mater.

Given the reach of the group and, the important role it plays in giving shape, form and direction to the literary content that is produced from Bengal, it is not too much to expect them to be at the forefront of technology when it comes to news and content published electronically. The association with Ananda Publishers, which publishes books from a variety of authors for a consumer base that spans ages, it is not too hard to anticipate that they will be heralding change and, changing for the better.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Bengali/Bangla and digital standards, the group is one of the laggards since they stick to an antique non-standard technology. In short, it is surprising that they are yet to think over adopting Unicode as a part of their online version.

This lack of interest in adopting Unicode has created an unique situation. The digital content published by the ABP group requires extremely unorthodox parser development to be encoded into Unicode and, used in any form of language study. The inability to be able to easily use the corpus is all the more important from the perspective of being able to extensively use Bengali/Bangla in the digital domain. Additionally, while browsers have demonstrated improved support for Unicode, the online content, including the shopping cart of Ananda Publishers, are unfit to be rendered on such browsers. Stop here for a moment and imagine a plethora of mobile and portable devices which may have extensive support for Bengali/Bangla at the user-interface level, the ability to input, print and render Bengali/Bangla but, would be unable to work with the content provided by the most circulated Bengali newspaper in India.

A group of folks led by Golam M Hossain have devised a prototype of an Unicode Proxy for Anandabazar Patrika. The attempt is not aimed at facilitating the reading of the newspaper, that is a happy collateral. The experiment is focused on demonstrating that it may not be difficult for Anandabazar to adopt Unicode.

Please read this page and if you desire to support it, write in with your name and affiliation to support the petition. If you know someone at ABP/Anandabazar who would be interested in a discussion, it would be good to get a conversation going.

A few good movies

Continuing with the earlier thread of uplifting content here’s a few good movies along similar lines. The criteria for selection is trivial – these are movies that I can watch on any given day.

  • Chariots of Fire – that iconic background score and, meaty acting. It can never get better
  • Glory Road – amazingly intense and focussed acting from Josh Lucas. Even the cliche set-piece moments come out well
  • Remember The Titans – slightly over the top but organized acting by Denzel Washington sees this through
  • Gridiron Gang – Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson holds this one together with a very composed act
  • Miracle – although it is centred around Herb Brooks, Kurt Russell isn’t the one who keeps the movie alive. The cast is just perfect
  • Rocky Balboa – the first and third of the Rocky series were my favorites till this one came along. Somewhat moody, nostalgic and self-deprecating this was nuggets of folksy wisdom and, a will to live life on one’s own terms that makes it a sweet movie
  • Any Given Sunday – I did not like it the first time I watched it. A repeat view on HBO allowed me to focus on the characters rather than the story. In spite of all the flashy editing and the rushed pace of the story, the theme is the one that holds this up.

By now the trend should be transparent. It is a list of movies associated with sports and ones which build up on the notion of ‘impossible is nothing’ in various forms. Movies which make you believe in that even if for a fleeting moment are the ones that stay with you.

And then of course there is this quote:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

When one is idle one needs something to keep the workshop running

I watched an episode of We,The People yesterday. The motivation was two-fold. It was around Twitter and, it had a few folks I follow/read on Twitter. In a nut-shell, in spite of the melodrama that W,TP creates I expected some sensible discussion around “India, Twitter Nation” (This week on WTP: India ,Twitter Nation: Has the Twitteratti replaced the Chatteratti?).

That wasn’t meant to be.

There was some meandering discussions around ‘formal’ and, ‘informal’ media, a bit of posturing about abusive-nature of a ‘free’ and ‘unregulated’ medium. And, of course, some give and take about the medium itself.

The one thing that was missing was the first-hand, in-depth experience of folks who either use Twitter as a medium of communication in the same way that they use/used Instant Messengers or, the input from folks for whom Twitter as a medium is an extension of how they put their verbalize their thoughts.

Let us not forget the fact that Twitter itself was born out of a need to form a ‘social network’ and, the 140 character limit is more an imposition of the SMS/text message driven information sharing workflow than anything else. Sticking the label of ‘media’, even if it is prefixed with ‘informal’ is just a step away from demanding that regulation be imposed. When I exchange text messages with my friends, I have a reason to stamp my personality, my mannerisms into my messages. With Twitter the upside is that a lot of other folks whom I may or may not meet, whose phone numbers I may or may not possess have the choice to participate in the conversation. If the circles of conversation ripples out, that in no way makes it a medium ripe for regulation.

That is precisely what bothers me.

The manufactured outrage at something which in our nation is still the hobby-horse of the well-heeled and, doesn’t actually get anything done doesn’t need righteous indignation and huff-puffing from prime time TV. We have better things to do.

Or, where we tend to search for uplifting stories

On Facebook today a friend remarked that Shawshank Redemption has a lot of elements common/overlapping with Veer Savarkar’s life.

That isn’t surprising.

I’ve always wondered why tales like Shawshank Redemption or even, The Count of Monte Cristo are popular. The latter is a singular example. In the original form it is a somewhat dark story of revenge and, more importantly it does take advantage of the backdrop of the society it is set in to create some really macabre events. And yet, it is well sought after, read and, translated as well.

What makes them so special ?

I think we are suckers for stories where a wronged hero(like) character suffers trials and tribulations with a bit of stoic nature thrown in. Fate hurls her foulest arrows at this character who just hunkers down and does all the right things hoping that (s)he will prevail. Or, as James Stockdale put it “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” We believe in the fact that the central character will win because it allows us to introspect on our own failings and shortcomings and simultaneously believe in the fact that given a chance we too can shine. And, we believe in these stories because there comes an element of chance, luck, an event that would be the turning point in this whole existence that is seeped with pain and sorrow.

The hero is defined with respect to the villain. “Every search for a hero must begin with something which every hero requires, a villain.” Most biographies or, anecdotes about personalities use this story-telling crutch – the build-up of the character using adversity and the subsequent triumph as an important point. Those who practise media have made this one of the basic points to focus upon when trying to build up a personality. The Count of Monte Cristo fits this bill as well. Edmond Dantes was wronged, he suffered greatly only to meet Abe Faria who opened up a new world for him. From thereon, he lived only for revenge till the time the ties of family and, the higher emotions of love demonstrated to him the shallow nature of his reason to exist.

We need to believe in love. We need to have faith in ourselves and, we desperately need convincing that we are good humans at heart. And, that is why we love these stories.

The fear of fear

Sometimes things shouldn’t get kept in suspended animation that they go stale. At the beginning of this year, or, actually, sometime before 2009 was over I had thought of trying to see if there are any writing workshops being organized at Pune. I know of a few at Mumbai but then Mumbai is far away to be not motivated to sign-up for them. I’d given it enough thought and had also put forth a task for myself to find that out. Nearly 7 months into the year we are where we started and, to put the proverbial cherry on the cake, I am lacking motivation to do more anyway.

There are times when I find it strange and awkward to actual let things loose in the wild. In software engineering terms it could be called the ‘fear of a release’. It is a strange cramped up feeling that gnaws away at you. When you are in-motion helping something get created, the act of development lulls your fears and your nightmares. The time when creation stops and evolution has to happen is the precise point when the ‘what if’ parts leap up and bite you at places you don’t want bitten. It is an interesting problem in theory. In practice it is an extreme annoyance. I’ve seen myself go through nerve wracking times when the team makes a release of a software. And, these days I end up in the same recursive loop anytime I have to undertake something that remotely resembles talking about my thoughts and opinions to an audience.

At least the saving grace is that unlike the other things that bother me and I have no understanding of, this one is something I can put a finger on. Perhaps it is time that I fix it as well

A subtitle, some social networking glitches and then some

The other day Runa was watching Jogwa and she paused the movie at a moment when the sub-title on the screen was “My life has achieved happiness”. I have this odd habit of reading out sub-titles in my head and, I simply couldn’t agree with this. The somewhat pedantic approach would have been to replace achieved with attained thus making it a nicely written sentence. But try saying that out loud and perhaps you’d notice the culture shifts to a bygone era when using attain. We generally don’t end up using attain too often in quickly spoken sentences. It was an interesting lesson in translation and, also an exercise in figuring out what transpired in selecting the word.

This also brings forth another issue. In the socially networked world we seem to have run out of words and qualifiers. Too often than not we toss around words like “amazing” , “magical”, “revolutionary”, “epic” and even ones like “stunning”, “iconic” or, “awesome” (see the identi,ca trail here). Especially epic. Everything seems to be epic – epic fail, epic win, epic event and … you get the drift of the conversation. Truly 140 characters seem to bring out the text-message experts, the grammar ignorants and more importantly the word-challenged amongst us. Taking recourse to a single word to encompass all emotion is either a manifestation of this or, a carry over from the school/college days when everything was ‘byaapok’ or, ‘ghyaam’ – I don’t have the adequate English equivalents of them save the ones we are already talking about 😉 (which would also indicate your age as these are words from two different decades).

Remarkable is the way language evolves but even more fascinating is how it compresses and expands to lend itself to be used by all. Today, 60% of Twitter’s 105 million registered users are based outside of the United States. Twitter is localized as on date into just 5 (or, is it 6 ?) languages. Which means a siginificant volume of traffic through Twitter is in the vernacular. And, it would form an interesting way to generate a corpus and allow language studies to be conducted.

All ills are resolved by a hash-tag

Sometimes it feels that all the ‘connected world’ power that we have has only managed to make us dabblers in all the affairs. For example, consider the fact that more often than not the well-heeled resort to candle-light vigils or, hashtags on social networks or even facebook groups to make folks ‘aware’ about issues. A recent example could be this.

In any civil conflict there are a couple of sides. The primary protagonists are the folks who are deeply affected by this (in the current example the folks at Manipur) and, the ones who can try their level best to untangle the situation. Then there are those at the side-lines who may or may not resonate with the issue but have empathy and want to do something. Unfortunately, the ‘internet-centric’ campaigns that I’ve seen tend to give people the excuse that “I re-tweeted’ or, ‘trended the hash-tag’ hence I did my bit. Call it arm-chair activism or, call it smart-phone savvy participation. At the end of the day nothing much does happen. Sure, in this case 3 media folks called up the original tweeter and only time will tell to what extent. But look at the issue in light of how media has treated it – in between these 55 days, the media had time to cover the IPL mess, the Jhargram rail disaster, the Mangalore air disaster, the WB Municipal elections. But I’m pretty much sure that the amount of air-time or, newsprint given to the precarious situation has been abysmal.

We are what we have made our-selves – a gadget loving coterie of slick city dwellers who are inordinately arrogant about the luxuries we have and now and then deign to think about the have-nots via hash-tag morchas.

Rajneeti – too long and too tame an ending

We went to watch Rajneeti today and all through the movie two things nagged me. The first – why could they have not made it a bit more tight and snappy. The second – Kalyug was so much a better movie.

The problem with basing anything on Mahabharata is that given the huge span of emotions and labyrinth of stories that it has, anything can be said to be based on it. Having indicative elements of a ‘discarded first born’ brought up ‘in poverty and backward-ness’ as a non-elite, the arrogance and ruthlessness of the elite ruling cabal and of course, the helplessness of the patriarch are not the only things that make a movie based on the epic.

And then of course there is the pace of the movie. It plods along predictable lines with the characters striving to stick to what has been dished out to them as the roles. And then of course there is the mash-up created via Godfather inspired sequences. The problem is exacerbated with the long drawn introduction that happens. For instance, Bhaskar Sanyal (which is a strange cameo by Naseruddin Shah) is built up as a firebrand leader but the movie does no justice to either his reputation or, his sudden self-imposed exile which does lead to devastating consequences for the ruling family.

Among the cast, barring Ajay Devgn and to some extent Katrina Kaif, most do an excellent job. Nana Patekar especially develops his character of Brijgopal (the ‘so called’ brother of the essential ‘mother’ character) with care and nuances that are a treat to watch. Arjun Rampal is belligerent and, a far better actor than his previous movies. Ranbir Kapoor’s SamarPratap is an essentially dark character which fails to shine through with the reason for him to indulge in whatever he does.  Ajay Devgn takes his role far too seriously and that is evident in his scenes with Manoj Bajpai who essays his character with a self-indulgent charm and venom. The seething rage which he lets through in singular scenes is a well choreographed one. Katrina Kaif does a better job than being mere eye-candy and, it is either her or, the script which she got that makes her character development unbelievably rapid. I’d like to see the actor who played the role of Bharti (the mother) in a few more movies. Her sequences with Nana Patekar were good.

At the end, I had two questions – with Shruti Seth’s future uncertain, who was elected from Sitapur (and, from which party) and of course, was SamarPratap able to defend his PhD ?

Interestingly enough, although during the campaign she’s introduced as Indu Prithvi Pratap, during the swearing in ceremony, the Prithvi is dropped.