By: Kamal Baruah
Lakshmi arrived the other day at my desk explaining to me about her xenoglossophobia – fear of speaking a foreign language. She recently received an SMS on her feature phone but could not understand it as she was not familiar with the language. Concerned, she was wondering how could she get the piece of information that was shared. She felt frustrated that why native language is not used to reach a larger audience. Her brother Ganesh was also terrified, while letting him know about the issues of inconvenience and I was expecting an owl attack, for stopping her right to the annuity. There are so many cases from Saraswati to Lakshmi and Parvati that their problems seemed pretty insignificant to us. It struck my wandering mind back to their linkage (three main female deities Tridevis) that eventually linked to Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, who collectively created the world. I was somewhat taken aback by her grievance, while a family pensioner Lakshmi Devi got shocked to know the deduction of her monthly pension all of a sudden at 40%. Shocking enough, the text message reached beyond her understanding. Her submission was how things informed us in English, while you all preach day-to-day banking in Assamese. I was horrified at her appeal but genuine as other parts of the Southern / Northern India follow transactions/passbook updates/notices/circulars in vernacular along with English. There were times, when Madras DD quietly withdrew the Hindi News telecast, a daily item in the evening prime time as the Hindi bulletin had been greeted with howls of protest? The politics of chauvinism had won a victory over nationalism. To the outsiders, the newsreader poised us a tea break then.
Central Government and PSUs in the North East regions have a preference for English and sometimes for Hindi without a vernacular dialect. While social networking now goes regional, why banking doesn’t consider the common man, who represented the hopes and aspirations of the average Indian as Cartoonist RK Laxman did through a daily comic strip. As government delivers the revolutionary financial inclusion – Jan Dhan Yojana, Lakshmi deserves her right to know in her preferred language. While we talk about promoting aam aadmi (the common man) to their ability to determine their own choices and right to influence social change. This isn’t about the story of Lakshmi alone. We even felt difficulties while connecting/sharing social media in a vernacular script. Another Indian language such as Devanagari, Bengali, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Sinhala, Tamil, and Telegu has their Dictionary App, Google Translate, and scripts on every platform today. Ironically Assamese and other North-Eastern languages are yet to enter the Google platform. The App store doesn’t have an Assamese keyboard. But there are third-party applications in Android, it might give hackers access to contacts, passwords, and financial accounts. No wonder Apple wouldn’t approve.
So far Assam doesn’t have a separate code chart for its script while the language has evidence of unique characters, symbols, and script since the 4th- 5th century AD but it’s yet to convince ISO (International organization for standardization) Technical committee in ISO10646. Unicode is the universal character encoding used to process, store and facilitate the interchange of text data in any language while ASCII is a character encoding standard for electronic communication used for the representation of text such as symbols, letters, digits, etc. in computers. The Software leaders Adobe, MS, Google, IBM, Oracle, Apple, Xerox, etc. have developed the Unicode standards for multilingual text character encoding systems, who helps ISO for promoting the development of standardization. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai did a lot of things that seemed crazy over a billion users, like Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, and Android?
Assamese literature must evolve to meet the challenges of changing times and the Sahitya Akademy winner Kuldhar Saikia – the President of Asam Sahitya Sabha emphasizes digitizing the literary treasure of Assam and encouraging a new generation of writers. Everyone in the world should be able to use their language on phones and computers. Assamese Unicode is now clubbed with Bengali. It should engage specialists in linguistics, Software, and IT to prepare its script to BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards a member) for onward transmission to ISO. What could be the better? No wonder I am excited to see the inclusion of Assamese Unicode very soon so that we could send a texture next time in vernacular language. And there shall be alerts on instant messaging such as Namaste, Aadab, Assalam Alaykum, Sata Sri Akal, Vanakkam, Kem Chho, Namaskar in their scripts with emoji that would surely brighten up a day.