Bharati

by
  • Srinivasa Chakravarthy
Bharati is a script that is developed by Prof. Srinivas Chakravarthy and his team in IIT Madras. He had been researching on developing a software which recognises the fonts of Indian languages out of handwritten characters. There already existed numerous such software for English and other foreign languages, but none for Indian languages because of the diversity and complexity in Indian scripts. This is when Prof. Chakravarthy decided to create a whole new script that incorporates elements from many Indian languages which could represent the numerous sounds and phonetics of our languages. This is how Bharati was born.
typography design system design

Major Indian languages lend themselves to natural unification due to their common phonetic structure but only differ in visual appearances. Our languages are arranged in a logical pattern by the 5th-century scholar Panini based on vibrations and sounds from the different parts of the mouth with the distinction of vowels and consonants in an orderly manner, unlike the English alphabets.

The only ambiguity lies in the mismatch of sounds and shapes of the fonts. Bharati not only retains the phonetic privileges of Indian languages but also fill up the small voids of character shape constancy by providing an easy to remember script which one can expert in no more than half an hour.

There are simple rules which use the underlying phonetics and give you the shape of the character. It is designed using simplest shapes, often borrowing simple characters from various Indian languages/scripts.

Notice how Bharati has tried to make characters across a phonetic row more consistent

Notice how Bharati has tried to make characters across a phonetic row more consistent

18 larger shapes and 20 smaller markings called diacritics make Bharati and by combining only these small sets of symbols we can construct any word of any of the Indian language. Notice how the larger shapes draw inspiration from many Indian languages – like the Bharati ‘Ka’ is inspired by Hindi ‘क’, Telugu ‘క’, Odia ‘କ’ and so on.

Bharati enforces tighter character pattern thus making learning the script more intuitive

Bharati enforces tighter character pattern thus making learning the script more intuitive

Bharati team has provided plenty of resources called Primers on their website to learn the script quickly. It should be well understood that Bharati isn’t a new language but only a script.

Screenshots from the Odia Primer and the Telugu Primer (words read 'Kamala' and 'Amma')

Screenshots from the Odia Primer and the Telugu Primer (words read 'Kamala' and 'Amma')

Though Bharati was originally motivated by the technological needs for easy adoption in the text-centric mechanism, later it was realized that it can be used for regular use as well due to its easy-to-learn nature.

Another effective application of Bharati could be in Optical character recognition (OCR) wherein we have to analyse the character, identify its components and recognise it. But with current Indian scripts being quite complex for OCR, Bharati gives an edge over them in the way it is designed such that its components can be well segregated within the character image to get a higher performance for OCR.

A study by the professor’s student shows that Bharati script saves a lot of ink in comparison to other languages which can be a potential saving for the shopkeepers who’ll print their hoardings and nameplates in Bharati rather than in different languages simultaneously.

Moreover, Bharati proliferates literacy as it takes no greater efforts than learning Candy Crush Saga, professor Srinivas claims. There were huge no. of campaigns, summer camps and classes organised to span Bharati and ironically students test scores in Bharati came out to be higher than that in their native language. The coming generation which is pacing away from the Indian languages who can speak their native language but can’t read or write them partly due to their complex nature can easily adopt Bharati. Bharati instead of complexing with its novelty has proved to be a unifying aid for the country’s immense linguistic culture.

Courtesy: Bharati Summer Camp

Courtesy: Bharati Summer Camp

Courtesy: Bharati Summer Camp

Courtesy: Bharati Summer Camp

Can you tell us the story behind your project? How did you come up with the idea of Bharati? What are your inspirations for creativity?

Professor : Our lab has been working on developing algorithms for character recognition in Indian languages for nearly 15 years. Had worked on several Indic scripts. After a lot struggle with many scripts I began to wonder why we must deal with so many scripts in the first place since all the scripts represent nearly the same thing - vowels, consonants, consonant-vowel combinations etc etc. Phoenetically they have nearly identical organization; only in their graphical form they are different. This observation gave rise to two points: there must a single script for the entire country. That script must be designed such that the beautiful phonetical logic of our current scripts, must be manifest by the written form. The resulting script will be delightfully simple. And that script is Bharati. (One pre-existing example for this is Western Europe. There are many languages that share nearly the same script. It makes life easier.)

I have read quite a bit of science history. The patterns of evolution of ideas in science are very interesting. A great inspiration for a long time was Isaac Asimov. A more recent inspiration is Elon Musk!

How long did it take you to make the prototype and how is the typical process like? Was deciding on the characters that make Bharati a tough task?

The very first version was formulated around 2009. Since then there were occasional revisions but the basic principles did not change much. In Bharati, once the basic shapes are chosen, all other shapes are derived by applying a small set of rules strictly. So there was not much of a problem choosing the characters.

How was the process of forming a team to accomplish this project like? Where did you require collaborations with students? How can students who aren’t physically in Chennai contribute to the project?

I had a project on character recognition initially. Some students who were working on that project also contributed to the project. Help is desired in 3 areas.

  • Technological Development: This kind of work is done in-house.
  • Developing content in various languages in Bharati script and hosting it on our Bharati site: This work can be done remotely.
  • Conducting programs in schools all over India: If there are volunteers interested in doing any of the above, we can work with them. I can even take a project associate on a project here. Interns are also welcome.

What would your advice to young learners who want to do creative projects like you be?

While at college, pursuing any degree, one must try to expose oneself to a wide variety of ideas from several domains. Personally, I draw a lot of help from popular science books and inspiring biographies. Also, it helps to interact with people who are doing interesting work, to attend their lectures, correspond with them, work with them if possible.

What are the projects you would want to see happen in India? What is your vision for the country - how do we use our creativity efficiently?

One would like very, very much to live in an India that is beautiful, with clean roads and lovely cities (not exactly what we see around now). Our cities must be like the great cities of the world - Tokyo, London, Singapore - fully functional, capable of supporting the lives of millions, yet beautiful and livable.

For a long time, we have repressed that great fuel of a nation’s progress - the individual initiative. Nations that succeeded to nurture the initiative and enterprise of spirited individuals have risen greatly. In India too, there must a be a lot of opportunities for individual growth. USA is what it is now because it evolved into a ‘Land of Opportunity’. We must also create a framework so that people can grow into the mould of their dreams. The individual enterprise must be facilitated.

A lot intelligent and creative effort must be directed towards improving the living conditions of the section that we condescendingly call the “masses.” They must be empowered through knowledge, which must be available, abundantly in local languages. Once people learn, they can uplift themselves by creative, inspired self-effort. THere must be a govt policy by which all the public university faculty must contribute, a little bit, in some way or other to rural education. It must not be a million disconnected efforts. All that must be done as a part of a grand, solid, coherent, and well-thought-through framework.

Right now most of the interesting developments, all the ‘shaking’and the ‘moving’, in India is happening in the English speaking section. Because English puts you into contact with the great progressive movements of the world. All that movement is driven by knowledge of a very specialised kind, which is present in English and other world languages. If such knowledge is also ported to Indian languages on a massive scale, we can anticipate the Second Wave of growth in India. When that happens, the kind of creativity and energy that will be released will probably be unprecedented in world history. Right now the section whose education and upbringing is confined to Indian languages only, seem somewhat unprogressive, unable to jump onto the wave of progress that is sweeping special places like Bangalore, Gurgaon, or Mumbai-Pune belt, Hyderabad/Cyberabad etc.

Just as we now witness ‘reverse brain drain’ of people returning from abroad and initiating progressive work in India, one can anticipate a ‘reverse brain drain’ within India, of people moving from metros to II tier towns and villages to carry the new spirit of progress into these neglected, dusty parts of India.

“Everything is creative twice: first in the mind, then in the world without.”

(a quote I’ve heard somewhere). If you improve the minds, what you see outside will instantly turn lovely.