Friday, September 19, 2014

You Speak Your Language, I Will Speak Mine - But We Shall Still Communicate!

Let me start with a negative note:
I am fed up of language barrier in India particularly, and in general globally. We humans have divided ourselves into very narrow pockets with linguistic identity. Mother tongue (matru bhasha), National language (rashtra bhasha), state languages (rajya bhasha), official languages (raj bhasha), classical languages (shastriya bhasha), link language, entertainment language, second language, third language, foreign language, invader language, heritage language... etc etc.

Here a chart that I had prepared the last time I got frustrated with language debate. Since then, 2 more classical languages may be coming up - Odia and Malayalam.

What I have learned after decades of seeing language debates and politics... Languages unite in some cases. But in more cases, languages divide us more than they unite. I don't have to give details of how languages have divided millions of Indians today.. how they have made 100s of millions of Indians see other 100s of millions of Indians as "un-Indian". The anger, the snubs, the protests, the beating, the reservations, the school politics, the ganging up, the insults.. it's just ugly in so many cases. In the height of "my language versus your language", many have stopped seeing others as a Bharatiya... or even a human deserving dignity.

The key problem is the unnecessary pride and chest beating.. If you don't learn "my language", you are not equal.. And the natural reaction is that if I abandon "my language" in government and business, it will be lost! And practically it is not possible for a regular person to learn more than 3 languages well - I mean read, write, speak and understand at high school level. With nearly 2 dozen really big languages being spoken by millions of people in each case, India is the land of language conflicts.

Frankly, I am not pro any language strongly.. I am not anti any language strongly. My take is that a language serves a purpose of communicating. Language(s) will help you get diverse information. Each have their own style and strength. They also have weaknesses. I am very proud of mine and you be proud of yours. Personally, I am all for more the merry policy! And that's pretty much it. If you start giving it too much importance and create your whole identity around a language (or opposing some other), it is not the best usage of your time. Languages evolve, borrow words, grow in vocabulary, shrink and die. It's a natural cycle. Some just undergo metamorphosis into one or more daughter languages in the course of time.

But nothing is constant. Kalaya tasmai namah. Everything that's born will die one day.

And now the positive note:
What if.. we had a system in this 21st century, wherein  
You Speak Your Language, I Will Speak Mine - But We Shall Still Communicate!

Sounds crazy? Sounds impractical? It's not. Let me put in my vision and you tell me if this is possible. If possible, you are by all means free to use this idea and make money in the long  run :)

But I have some ideas.. I am sure you will have lot more. And none of these are not any genius stuff as many would already be in place in advanced pockets of our globe.

1) Let's start with a visit to a tax office, a bank or an insurance office. Take the tax office. You have to deal with a tax form as shown here. You are the "kardaata" or "tax payer" in Guwahati. What if you can't read either of the languages the form is printed in? There are 100s of millions of such Indians who can read and write, but not these two languages at an expertise level to fill in a critical piece of tax information.

No problem..
You take your mobile phone that has a handy scan app built into it, and just scan over that tax form. Or you can use a more elaborate professional handy scan machine.

Voila.. the form is fully scanned and you will see on your device an Asomiya translated version. Better, you will have the ability to key in the Cheque number, type of payment etc. right into the phone. When done, simply press a button to e-print the filled form right there. The office will have it right a the desk.
For those who can afford, it can be in their car. Almost all traffic inspectors in Bengaluru today print their traffic violation payment receipt right on the street using a blackberry phone which can print. 

The job is done. Those printing the challans have no language problem. They can print in one or two languages of their government or institution's interest. Those taking the service don't have to worry about learning the languages. They can fill in any language that they are familiar with. The important thing is for the job to get done well, easily and in an affordable manner.

2) Next - emergency instructions.

You are traveling from Guntur in AP to Mysuru in Karnataka. Almost all literate passengers in this inter state train would know Telugu or Kannada or both. But the night train has emergency instructions only in Hindi and English. Lakhs of people who travel interstate between these destinations would have difficulty reading and comprehending the vital emergency instructions.

Again.. use your phone, even the basic smart phone variety. Click the picture of the instructions. The app will then recognize the language(s) and give you an instant translation in Telugu or Kannada. Problem solved!

Some might say.. what's the big deal in reading these 3 lines? Trust me.. 100s of people died in train emergencies in India each year and even if 2 extra lives are saved crossing the language barrier, that's worth it.

It's not just train. It's for all emergency instructions. Plane, Volvo bus, LPG cylinder, inflammable fluid carriers, hazardous material handling factories, school premise, movie theater.. etc. etc.
When life saving instructions are not in the language you can read, they are NOT life saving! If we can make it truly language independent using sign languages, that's different. But at least here is some way to use the existing system, instead of changing it fully.

3) Moving on - Meeting a stranger for asking directions.

It has happened to almost all of us a few times in life. We ask for directions in a city or village that we are visiting, and invariably the language barrier comes in. In most cases, there's a genuine difficulty. But in some cases involving linguistic animosity, people are rude and won't help you. All of us will know at least 2 incidents in life, where we were shunted out just because we could not speak "their" language. In my view, it's risky to be language illiterate in India, particularly for women.

So here's a simple way out. You meet someone. Put a headphone bud into one ear.

Select the on source and destination language buttons on your phone. Boom... you can have a conversation. Your phone is acting as a real time translator. The other person also does the same. Even if the other person is not equipped with this app, your device will tell you what to tell after translation. Everything happens in real time! No interpreter needed. And adding a couple of simple Namaste, Thanks, Shukriya, Vanakkam will make the other person feel happy and your job will be done really well.

If you take the technology further and use Google Glass, you can do wonderful things without needing much human help. But Indian streets, particularly the non metro downtown areas, are a long way from actually using self-help Google glasses. So you need technology that can be simply used with existing human support that's available.

4) Then - Your PM speaks in Hindi.

Now this is a big issue in some pockets of south India and east India. PM Modi speaks in only in Hindi. Language pride and language hate politics kick in. Learn Hindi...  Don't impose Hindi groups start quarrel. If the PM were to speak in English too, the same things would kick in, but from some pockets in the North or West or center. The point is not language. It's the proficiency we have with it, and the like we have for it. Why not use mine is always the problem!

I can't solve the language problems when we have nearly 24 languages, each spoken by at least a few million people in India. It's next to impossible. For 60+ years people have tried. So what I would try is to let you keep your language and let me keep mine.

With just 20 seconds delay, all websites and TV or radio channels that broadcast PM's speech, can do a voice change-over into destination languages. The technology exists already in Europe which is yet another highly diverse India-like continent.

Europe and UN, with dozens and sometimes 100s of languages are involved, conduct business already without any barrier. We in India are still ages behind quibbling over mundane "you speak in my language" nonsense. In Indian parliament, if you have to ask a question in the 2000 year old INDIAN language Kannada, you will have to take prior permission. Unless you have prior permission, you have no choice but to switch to one of the 2 official languages, which at least 200 MPs from non Hindi regions of India are not proficient in! And they keep quiet and their constituencies suffer because of this language barrier. It's really silly and so non-federal in nature. And the same problem across all legislative assemblies where most Indian languages are shunted out even if there are people in the state speaking those languages.

So what can be done? Let the parliamentarians find their solution. We can focus on the general public watching TV. There are a variety of instant translation mechanism available with human help. All it takes is one person per TV station or one person per group of language channels/sites. Problem solved! No more subtitles issue. No more linguistic protests. It can even be two way in any TV debate. You ask in your language and an instant translation software or human intervention can take the debate to the destination language. You can literally participate in a Bangla debate at 5 PM, a Kannada debate at 7 PM and a  Hindi debate at 9 PM, if you are a channel hopping celebrity.. just kidding :)

If you want the original speaker's language, just select original voice through a remote button. In many cases, the emotion and dialogue delivery in the original language has no substitute in the translation. Additionally, another feature of play original and play translation for each sentence, where needed. This way you will learn some basics of the leader's language too. All these are possible with DVR technology and voice translation technology already. We just need to expand and make them affordable. 

5) Lastly.. you are on the road.

You are vacationing in Pune from Coimbatore but can't understand Marathi..
You are visiting Lucknow from Guwahati, but not proficient in Hindi subtitles.
You are touring Tirupati from Vadodara, and can't read temple displays in Telugu.

You can't read the local news papers.. nor can read street sign boards.. nor can make out the TV scroll. It is practically impossible in India to help all languages at all places.

So..  just point your mobile towards it.

App will get the info, understand the source language, translate it and show you the translation without changing the non-text part. Instantly!

You can use this in movies.. plays.. games.. street.. and even schools and colleges.

In summary:
  1. No more English panditya needed. Time to take the "elite" advantage away from those who have proficiency in English. They have a distinct advantage in Indian businesses today.
  2. No more fights on Hindi or no Hindi.. Time to take away the "elite" advantage central governments have created for those who speak Hindi, so that they alone can transact in government offices everywhere across India.
  3. No more Tamil pride, Marathi pride etc.. politics. Time to take away regional linguistic chauvinism (sometimes justified, sometimes not) where the anger is against one or two focused linguistic groups.
  4. No more hidden messages in one's language insulting the others. I am sure you all have seen in elevators, taxis, buses, trains, street corners..
  5. No more wasting or ink, paint and time in printing/announcing the same info multiple times. Isn't it irritating to hear the same announcements in 3 or 4 languages at some stations?
Make the world an equal opportunity place for all languages. I have only talked of some basic applications here. There are many advanced ways these can be taken to our education, industry, government, hospitals, temples and beyond. Imagine visiting Gaya and understanding instantly the meaning of those shraddha Sanskrit mantras when attending to the last rites of a dear one? The amount of usage is practically limitless.. all we need is proficiency in ONE Bharatiya language to live happily ever after (I consider English also as a Bharatiya language now).

The best part is that no major investment is needed. With smart phones already with more than 15% of Indians now, it is just a matter of time before 75% will have smart phones. I mean it's possible even before 2020 at the current rate!

So what are you waiting for? Go start a business or create apps to work on these ideas. Be a good Engineer. After all Engineers rule the world :) Be a good linguist to help the engineers. Be a great salesman and use the best finances to get it to all corners of India. Use the technology!

Everyone can understand, read, write and speak all languages. Wah.. now pinch me!!

Pictures used from: Wiki, bemoneyaware, blog.wisefaq, brighthub,,,, hearbudz, telecomcircle and All credit to the original rights holders.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dr. Narendra Jadhav Educates On Indian Economy

Today, got a chance to hear the very well informed Dr. Narendra Jadhav. He's an expert on Babasaheb Ambedkar's letters and policies. He's also an expert in Indian economics. He has written 30 books in multiple languages. You can browse more about his illustrious career or visit his website that has plenty of information.

I gathered some very nice points from his talk. They are as follows:

a) Dr. Ambedkar was fluent in Gujarati too, apart from Marathi, Hindi and English. Most people will recognize BR Ambedkar as the constitution formulator and a strong voice against untouchability in India. But very few know that the real forte of this multi faceted man was economics. Dr. Jadhav is a great resource on Dr. Ambedkar and his economics lectures.
b) BR Ambedkar has given a total of 537 speeches in his life in 4 languages. And Dr. Jadhav has compiled all of them in his English series of books. Now planning on releasing a Hindi version by December 6th, after the Marathi versions were done.
c) After independence, PM Nehru announced that India would double it's per capita income every 10 years to double the standard of living levels. But in reality, between 1951 and 1986, India's per capita income grew only at 1.2% (growth 3.3% and population growth 2.1%). At that rate it would have taken 59 years to double India's per capita income. In comparison, China doubled in 10, Korea in 13, Malaysia and Indonesia within 2 decades!
d) LPG stood for Liquified Petroleum Gas till 1991. But soon, PV Narasimha Rao's policies made LPG stand for Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization.
e) India in spite of 16 to 17% of the world's population, only had less than 1% of the world's trade in 1991. So the fear mongering against liberalization was silly. 99.5% of the world's trading economies would not "gang up" to harm an economy that formed just 0.5% of the world's trade.
f) When Deng Xiaoping was asked how come you are liberalizing the economy being a communist, he said, I don't care if the cat is black or white.. as long as it catches mice, I will take it!
g) Post liberalization, Indian economy grew at over 6% between 1992 for over a decade. It peaked at nearly 9% in 2007-08. Without liberalization it would not have grown anywhere near it.
h) Europe is facing severe economic crunch. The larger economies have exploited the smaller ones. PIIGS = Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain, are disasters. Now all packages to save them.
g) India is at once in a very long time (centuries may be) kind of Demographic dividend advantage right now. India's average age now is 24. It will be 29 by 2020. By then, China would be 37, USA 38, Western Europe 42 and Japan at a disastrous level of 49. All these regions did very well economically when their demographic dividend was suitable. That means, more hands to work and less dependents to feed. Automatically, the savings would be highest during such situations. India has that opportunity of favourable demographic dividend for the next 15 years. If India messes during these 15 years, this would become Demographic Disaster.
h) The one important factor that Narendra Modi government must focus on during this Demographic Dividend window is the Social Sector - Education, Health and Social Amity. Unless these are taken care of, high growth can not be sustained.
i) In India, the education sector needs to be streamlined in order to realize Modi's dream of better skills for all youth. Right now, the ITI (technical training) is under one department while the general education (non technical, but engineering included) is under another department. This friction between the department of Labour and Department of HRD needs to be resolved.
j) Modi has announced a new department called Ministry for Skills development. This is a great step and a first time ever in India's history. However, this is having a Minister of State leading it, which might make it less efficient when cabinet level Labour and HRD ministries are at friction already.
k) There's a priority Schedule Caste and Tribe funds allocation per department as mandated by government policies. If the state has more SC/ST population than national average of around 18%, they must allocate more by department. But neither the center, nor the states have implemented this till date, in spite of demands for decades. Out of the 68 departments in the prior UPA government, only one had even a line item for SC/ST separate fund account.
j) Regarding black economy, India needs to think of the root causes and solve them. For instance the gold rate differential was 65% more in Mumbai 10 years ago. The 500 gram per head gold import reform of Manmohan Singh made it go to 15% making it unprofitable for smugglers. Similarly, we need strong laws in drugs and other areas to stop the hawala network. Just adding more police will only increase more corruption, and won't solve the problem.
h) Lastly, a very little known fact is that while Ambedkar was the man who initiated skill development in public sector, it was Tagore who initiated the skill development on the private sector via Sri Niketan after his Shanti Niketan project.

A good learning experience, from a very learned man!