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Meet The Man Who Brought The 17th-Century Modi Script Back To Life

03/01/2017 1:33 PM IST | Updated 07/01/2017 9:58 AM IST

Santosh Yadav, a curator at the Ahmednagar Historical Museum has reinvigorated the historic and important 17th-century Modi script—using the computer as his primary tool— and made it accessible across India.

Santosh, 33, comes from a lower middle-class family. With a passion for history since childhood, he had access to the museum's extensive repository of documents dating back to the Peshwa period. These documents are written in the Modi script, which originated as a cursive variant during the 17th-century CE and was used until the 1950s, when Devanagari replaced it as the written medium for the Marathi language. Preserving and understanding the Modi script is vital from both an academic as well as a practical perspective because of the many old court documents, land records and government manuscripts that are written in it.

As a curator, Santosh primarily deals with the preservation of physical artefacts but he is aware that digital is fast becoming the medium of the future. He knows the advantages of digital technology and the unlimited potential it can offer for the preservation and reproduction of history. An ambitious man, eager to leave his mark on the world, Santosh saw an immense opportunity to use computers as a means to bring back a piece of the forgotten past to audiences that extend far beyond the borders of his little town.

"I could have written a book about this but it would have just stayed with me, but because of the computer these documents have the potential to travel far beyond the boundaries of Maharashtra and other parts of India."

Traditionally, understanding the Modi script requires special knowledge. Preserving the documents in paper format is also a challenging proposition.

Santosh had the idea of digitising the script i.e. creating a font which would give everyone the ability to read and write in the Modi script, in a standardised manner. In 2012, he started his journey to bring the Modi script back to the mainstream, with the computer as his primary companion.

Santosh has some familiarity with computers since he has taken a MS CIT course as part of his early education (BA). He knew the first step was solving the problem of how to map the alphabets of the Modi script with a keyboard, considering it has 56 characters. He was inspired by how English keyboards were used to write Marathi fonts and thought he would develop a similar phonetic mapping, where the "a" in Modi referred to the "A" on the keyboard, "kh" would be "k+h" and finally he used the function keys to map the vowels. For Santosh, the computer has transformed into an instrument of creation.

For over a year, Santosh worked with a software developer in Pune, Dewan Solutions, to develop a scalable font—Modi Santosh—which works with all the major software, including MS Word. He has copyrighted his font and created a CD, which comes with a font library and key for utilisation on a standard English keyboard. The CD retails for ₹375 and is currently in limited circulation for academic use.

As part of his outreach, Santosh conducts workshops and classes in the local college. Professor Sheik, history teacher at Radhabai Kale College, values Santosh's contribution and believes that using computers as a teaching medium as increased the interest of students in the subject. Students are opening up to the possibilities that the Modi script presents in terms of translation and research jobs.

Today, the local community is also recognising the impact of Santosh's efforts. Anil Kawade, collector and one of the museum trustees, believes that Santosh has found a way to revitalise the museum, where it could become a full-fledged research centre for the Modi script.

Meanwhile, Santosh continues to dream big. Now that the font is developed, he wants to create scanning software that can help with the translation and digitisation of documents in the Modi script. For him technology has helped merge his passion for history and desire to leave behind a legacy for future generations.

Source: The Better India