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India Foundation for the Arts
Newsletter Edition 35
May - July 2016
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Hello Readers!

We are back with news on our activities, grantees, their projects, and our various public engagements between May and July, 2016!

India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), in this period, witnessed many events to share the work of our grantees across many art forms, languages, and pedagogical possibilities. The latest call for proposals under our Arts Education programme is now out and we continue to welcome proposals under our Arts Practice programme through the year. Do read on to know more about our applications process, meet some of our grantees, and learn about their exciting experiments with the arts.

This newsletter proposes to acquaint you with some of the interesting work undertaken by our grantees these past few months. It also opens up for you multiple ways to connect with us and our work. We organise grant showcases in various cities and towns in India; conduct Open Houses to help members of the arts community understand our mandates, and the application process at IFA; and open our office to monthly MaathuKathes/Conversations on the arts. While this newsletter is a succinct narrative of the many such initiatives of IFA, it nonetheless cannot capture the experience of a live performance, presentation, or recital, and we hope you catch that magic at one of our upcoming events!

Please do visit our website or follow us on Twitter and facebook for updates!

We hope you enjoy the contents of this newsletter.
You can write to us at with any feedback that you may have.
We would love to hear from you!

The IFA Team

Programmes Publications
Events Slant/Stance
Announcements Support Us

Arts Research (AR)

The Arts Research programme is one of the longest running programmes at IFA, and supports scholars, researchers, and practitioners to undertake research into the various histories and expressions of artistic practices in India. We received over 300 enquiries in multiple languages, from across the country, in response to our last call for proposals in March, 2016. An expert panel drawn from the field will review short listed proposals, and we hope to introduce you to our new grantees and their exciting projects by the end of this year.

Arts Practice (AP)

We are inviting proposals under our Arts Practice programme for the year 2016-2017. This programme welcomes applications through the year.

The Arts Practice programme supports critical practice in the arts, and encourages practitioners working across artistic disciplines to question existing notions through their practice. The programme seeks to establish a culture where arts practice is constantly being shaped and articulated through experimentation, critique and dialogue.

IFA specifically encourages projects in Indian languages other than English, and proposals can be sent in any Indian language including English.

Watch Programme Executives Sumana Chandrashekar and Shubham Roy Choudhury talk about the Arts Practice programme and how to apply in this video below.

Do contact them at, and for more information on the programme mandates, application process and other queries on the programme.

This period also witnessed an outcome of one of the grants made in 2015, which proved to be an interesting event.

Photographer Soumya Sankar Bose received a grant from IFA to photograph Jatra artists in costume, captured in their everyday environment. The project helped focus on the dying art form of Jatra, and drawing attention to the changes experienced by the art form with the onslaught of television, media and newer forms of entertainment. This novel way of documenting the journey of an art form, produced beautiful photographs in black and white. The outcome of the project, an exhibition of these images, was also uniquely curated, continuing to push the boundaries of his practice. The exhibition opened in Chitrabani, one of the oldest media centre and library in Kolkata, and was inaugurated by Father Gaston Roberge, founder of the centre. The opening at a library set the stage for a completely immersive experience. Recordings of audio interviews being played through an old radio, coupled with the smell of old books and papers, and archival photographs recovered from the personal collections of the artists, provided the ideal apposition for Soumya's work. One part of the exhibition also included a Jatra artist in performance, preparing for a show in an alcove converted into a make-up room. The exhibition ran for 7 days, and was very well received among the photography and art lovers of the city.

Images from Soumya Sankar Bose's exhibition on Jatra at Chitrabani, Kolkata
Photo Credit: Amman Hussain
Arts Education (AE)

The Kali-Kalisu initiative of IFA, part of the Arts Education programme, aims to forge collaborations between teachers, the school community, and local artists in Karnataka. It seeks to create joint stakeholders invested in enriching the learning environment, through experimentations with indigenous art forms, and explorations of local contexts.

IFA has just opened the call for proposals for government school teachers to work with the arts in their local contexts. We welcome projects that engage with arts education in innovative and creative ways, please do apply and share widely. Applications are invited in multiple languages including Kannada, Hindi, Urdu or English.

For more information on the application process, requirements and more do visit our website or contact
Do Note our Deadline for Applications
Draft proposals should reach us no later than August 12, 2016
Final proposals should reach us no later than August 31, 2016

The Arts Education Programme for the year 2016-17 is supported by Citi India.

Under the Arts Education programme, IFA also conducts workshops with teachers, on introducing arts into the curriculum. One such workshop 'Integrating Local Perspectives into Curricula', sought to provide innovative assessment and training methods based in the arts, for the teachers of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) Hosahalli, at Kundapura, Udupi District.

Teachers engage with the theatre arts at the workshop conducted at Kundapura, Karnataka

The key objective behind this particular training programme was to create a curriculum and learning environment rooted in the local. For the students of SVYM, hailing from a tribal context, their indigenous histories, cultures, traditional values, and contemporary lifestyles has no correlation to the subjects being taught at school. This divorce between their socio-cultural realities, and learning, alienated them. The workshop attempted to understand this lacuna in their education, by helping the teachers develop a space which acknowledges the students' identity and individuality.

Teachers work with visual material as part of the training workshop at Kundapura, Karnataka

The workshop accordingly employed local stories, songs, games, and riddles to effectively convey their importance in learning. Some of our past grantees lead sessions on text based learning, including the use of a picture dictionary, creating a local fact Book - ENGKALAL, and composing a newsletter addressing contemporary issues. The participants also put together and performed a play, Kebbennu/Red Girl, based on a tribal story, and created visual material out of their personal narratives. The screening of relevant films by past IFA grantees every evening added another layer to this journey in the arts.

This workshop was supported by Titan Company Limited.

Archival and Museum Fellowships

The Archival and Museum Fellowships initiative of IFA, which aims to activate collections in museums and archives in India, through curatorial and artistic interventions, witnessed a flurry of activity in this period. We have begun a collaboration with two new partners, the Kerala Museum, Kochi and the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sanghralaya, Bhopal. Over the next few months we will award fellowships to practitioners who would like to work with these collections.

This initiative for the years 2015 to 2018 is supported by TATA TRUSTS.

The fellowships initiated in collaboration with the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC) witnessed fruition with the exhibition, Accessing Archives: An Exhibition of Three Exploratory Projects, at the Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre (JBMRC) in Kolkata. The three fellows Sujaan Mukherjee, Afrah Shafiq and Vishwajyoti Ghosh explored through their unique perspectives as a researcher and artist, respectively, the cultural history archives of CSSSC, which contain a wide variety of visual material of 19th and 20th century Bengal.

Clockwise (L-R): Still from Afrah Shafiq's multimedia journey, Sultana's Reality; Sujaan Mukherjee's project, Chance Directed: A Guide to Calcutta Tourism; Vishwajyoti Ghosh's project, Bengali Spring/Winter Sun; and
The audience at Accessing Archives: An Exhibition of Three Exploratory Projects (CSSSC), Kolkata

Afrah's Sultana's Reality, is a multimedia journey reminiscent of an Alice in Wonderland style of adventure, as a girl burrows into the history of education in the lives of women, and reads about how women were introduced to books, avoided them, read them, hated them, loved them and eventually wrote them. Sujaan's piece Chance Directed: A Guide to Calcutta Tourism, takes us on a stroll down the lanes of a bygone Calcutta, through used postcards, stereoscopic images, old guidebooks and memoirs. Vishwajyoti's project Bengali Spring/Winter Sun draws on instructional books on sexuality by Nripendra Kumar Basu and juxtaposed them with archival images, to disrupt and subvert the intended meanings of the original texts. These projects uniquely re-represented archival material to help us create new meanings, associations and memories.

These projects have been made possible with an Archival and Museum Fellowship from India Foundation for the Arts, in collaboration with CSSSC, with support from Voltas Limited.

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IFA organised and collaborated with partners to bring events to many venues across the country.

IFA presented a panel discussion, Unraveling the Contemporary with dancers Ashavari Majumdar, Anuradha Venkataraman and Jyoti Dogra, moderated by Sumana Chandrashekar, programme executive at IFA, at the Jugnee Dance Festival, 2016, Mumbai. The panel of practitioners discussed their own individual journeys in the quest for contemporaneity.

Image from panel discussion, Unraveling the Contemporary, with Sumana Chandrashekar,Anuradha Venkataraman, Jyoti Dogra and Ashavari Majumdar, at the Jugnee Dance Festival, 2016, Mumbai

We organised a film screening of The Common Task, an experimental film by Pallavi Paul and Sahej Rahal, which explores the Mars One project that hopes to be the first human mission to settle Mars. The film was screened at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai on May 05, 2016.

Image from the Q&A session with Sahej Rahal and Pallavi Paul
at the screening of The Common Task, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

IFA in association with Studio Safdar, brought a selection of readings from feminist street plays of the 1970s and 1980s, with Deepti and Shanthi of the Sampurna Trust, New Delhi on May 13, 2016.

We were delighted to present a session on Dodatta, the performance art form, at RINGAN organised by Aasakta Kalamanch, Pune. The session on May 14, 2016 with Prakash Garud and Rajani Garud explored their research into the 200 year old history of the form, tracing its history and development.

We organised a presentation, in partnership with People Tree Studio, New Delhi on May 28, 2016 to discuss an ongoing project to graphically represent Nabarun Battacharya's novel Lubdhak/The Dog Star with Madhuja Mukherjee.

Image from Madhuja Mukherjee's presentation on a graphic narrative of
Nabarun Battacharya's Lubdhak/The Dog Star at People Tree Studio, New Delhi

Performances of the production Monkey and the Mobile, supported by IFA, were held at Alliance Francaise of Madras on June 18 and 19, 2016. The play by Chennai based theatre group Perch, explores the effect of mobile phone technology on our everyday lives.

IFA presented a panel with Sumona Chakravarty, Latika Gupta, grantees of IFA, and Shubham Roy Choudhury, programme executive at IFA, on social art practice, and the public patronage for artistic interventions in a session entitled, Moving In/Moving Out at the Mumbai Art Room, on June 20, 2016.

An Exhibition & Presentation by The Travelling Archive at 1 Shanthi Road, on July 01, 2016 with Moushumi Bhowmik and Sukanta Majumdar, sought to present excerpts from their project on Dutch ethnomusicologist Arnold Bake, first exhibited at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan.

Image from the exhibition and presentation with Moushumi Bhowmik and Sukanta Majumdar
of The Travelling Archive at 1 Shanthi Road, Bangalore

We presented a package of films supported by IFA at the Ooty Film Festival on July 29, 30, and 31, 2016, at the HADP Auditorium, Ooty. City of photos by Nishtha Jain, Natak Jari Hai by Lalit Vachani, Rangbhoomi by Kamal Swaroop, Out of Thin Air by Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farooqi, The Common Task by Pallavi Paul and The Other Song by Saba Dewan, were showcased to pack audiences at the three day festival.

We organised four MaathuKathes, meaning Conversations in Kannada, with Sidhartha Maadhyamika, G S Sharada, and Lekha Naidu, Pancharatna Plus, Amandeep Sandhu and Pavithra Muddaya. Sidhartha directed the play To Live: Case and Circumstance with Sharada and Lekha exploring the fear of loneliness through their acting. The Pancharatna Plus, a group of children from Vidyaranyapura, Bangalore talked about their work in saving the Narsipura Lake's bio-diversity. Writer Amandeep read excerpts from his book Roll of Honour, and discussed relevant thematic concerns of the book with IFA Executive Director, Arundhati Ghosh. Handloom expert Pavithra presented stories of the weaver communities and of the relationship between society and its weaves in an interactive session.

MaathuKathe – (L Top): Amandeep Sandhu in conversation with Arundhati Ghosh; (L Bottom): Lekha Naidu
(R Top): Pavithra Muddaya; (R Bottom): Pancharatna Plus

IFA launched Catalyst – Arts an Inspiration for Excellence, in November, 2015. Catalyst is a unique initiative, which brings together 8 eminent artists, who will share their experiences of their pursuit of excellence, at corporate venues. As part of this initiative, we have partnered with Biocon Limited, Sasken Communication Technologies, Centum Electronics, and Titan Company Limited. The last few months have seen artists Atul Dodiya, Nandita Das, Romi Khosla, Malavika Sarukkai, Aditi Mangaldas, Jitish Kallat and Shekhar Gupta conduct sessions, talking with their individual journeys, in various spaces.

Shekhar Gupta at the Sasken Communication Technologies Campus, Bangalore

If you would like to know more about this initiative, or partner with us, please contact:

Upcoming Events

We look forward to seeing many of you in the audience at our upcoming events!

bird_bullet Our next MaathuKathe will be with thespian Sunil Shanbag, who will present Blank Page, a celebration of the spoken word through poetry, theatre, music, and movement, on August 16, 2016, at our office.

bird_bullet IFA is proud to present a panel discussion with researchers and curators Abeer Gupta, Suchitra Balasubrahmanyan and Latika Gupta on August 25, 2016, in Bangalore.

For more details on these events, do sign up for our emails here, follow us on facebook or Twitter for regular updates, or simply tune into our website at:

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We invite proposals for our Arts Practice and Arts Education programmes.

bird_bullet Arts Practice
Call for Proposals [No Deadline]
For more information: &

bird_bullet Arts Education
Call for Proposals from Teachers to work in Government Schools, Karnataka [Deadline: August 31, 2016]
For more information:

Do apply and spread the word!

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We have an interesting set of publications to offer which include postcards featuring our grantees' work, books and back issues of our magazine Art Connect. You can avail of special anniversary discounts on Limited Edition collections. All the proceeds from the sale of publications go back into grantmaking.
To know more, write to

IFA POSTCARDS Set 1 Beyond the Proscenium Embroidering Futures: ArtConnect Limited Edition
Own a set today!
Suggested contribution:
Rs 200
For details, write to
Beyond the Proscenium
Reimagining the Space for Performance

Edited by Anmol Vellani
176 pp., Rs 300, US $20
Click here to buy online.
Embroidering Futures:
Repurposing the Kantha

Edited by Ritu Sethi
192 pp., Rs 400, US $30
Click here to buy online.
20 years: Limited Edition - Set of 9 ArtConnect back issues
Buy Now at Rs 700 only
Click here to know more.
To buy ArtConnect, write to
Buy both and get a discount of Rs 100!
Click here to know more.

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K H Hussain received a grant from India Foundation for the Arts, under the Arts Research and Documentation programme, to document the complex and conflicted history of the evolution of the Malayalam script in the computer era, through the exploration of the Rachana movement in Kerala. Outcomes of the project will include a free and open Malayalam font based on the original script, a website archiving published material related to the language campaign for the original script, and a book printed in this script narrating the history, evolution and present status of the Malayalam Lipi and Unicode language technology.
This grant was made possible with support from the Bajaj Group.

Hussain is a founding member of Rachana Aksharavedi, and the designer of Rachna and Meera Unicode fonts of original Malayalam script. He has also designed Meera Tamil font for Wikipedia. He designed the first information system using Unicode Malayalam, and successfully experimented with the original script for data search and retrieval for the web-based digital archives of Doctoral Thesis (Mahatama Gandhi University), and Rarebooks (State Central Library, Thiruvanthapuram). He has authored many articles on script in Malayalam for various journals and newspapers.

IFA: Could you tell us more about evolution and modification of Malayalam script in response to technological intervention?

K H Hussain: Malayalam is one of the Dravidian languages bestowed with classical status. Though its origin is often traced back 1500 years, it is the youngest among the national languages of India. Malayalam script began to evolve from 8th century AD, with many regional variations across this relatively small geographical area. As with the other Indian languages, Malayalam script has elements of ancient Brahmi script, and evolution of its signs was mediated by the interests and requirements of power wielding sections of the society, including the ruling classes. Until 1824 when Benjamin Bailey, a British, Church of England missionary designed the first movable metal typefaces, the main medium of writing Malayalam was palm leaf with metal stylus. The efforts of Benjamin Bailey lead to standardisation of the Malayalam alphabet for the first time, integrating all its local variations. The fact that this standardisation was coterminous with the beginning of modernity in various social and public arenas of Kerala is a significant event. Since then printing and publishing proliferated in the state, and majority of the population got a chance for the first time to see, learn and write their script. In this respect printing in the early decades of 19th century was a definite technological intervention in the 'social life of Malayalam scripts', and initiated a long process of fine tuning and embellishing. After nearly 150 years of its robust existence and proliferation, two related episodes of technology driven modification of scripts turned out to be crucial. Firstly, the refashioning of scripts in 1970s to enable Malayalam Typewriting, and secondly, the codification of Malayalam characters to enable Malayalam computing. These efforts proved to be limiting instead of liberative experiences due to the unholy link of technology, ideology and authority.

Image of Keraleeyam glyphs, designed to preserve Dot Characters, which were prevalent
in Malayalam writing and printing

IFA: What are the major shifts and structural ruptures that effected Malayalam scripts at various stages of modernization? Were there any ideological underpinnings involved? What were they?

K H Hussain: Within 25 years of its origin, many more conjuncts (ligatures) were added to the 600 set of characters identified and standardised by Benjamin Bailey, and all of them were used in printing. With minimum changes this character set existed without any confusion in reading and writing for nearly one and half centuries. A major shift occurred when these original characters were officially reformed in 1970 for use in Malayalam typewriters. A majority of conjuncts and some important consonant-vowel formations were discarded to accommodate characters in the limited number of keys available in a typewriter keyboard. Severe confusion arouse due to the artificiality of the newly introduced signs. The traditional script emulated free-flow handwriting. Economy and efficiency of the traditional conjuncts and consonant-vowel formations in representing sounds was imbibed into the writing systems, and fixed through many centuries. This was lost in the new script. Soon after the introduction of this modified script, the generation who witnessed these changes were still writing in the traditional script. They were forced to read in a script which was different from what is used in their writing. In 1973, by introducing these 'truncated' characters in the text books of primary schools, the non-systemisation began to spread within the education system as well. As a result, words and sounds in Malayalam were represented by different character sets on the blackboard, printed pages of text books, newspapers, magazines, and books, which led to a chaotic situation, very often affecting comprehension in schools. After four decades of pedagogy using the new script, Malayalam writing /printing is yet to escape from the simultaneous use of different types of character sets.

The characters made for the typewriters were first called 'Reformed Lipi' and subsequently referred to as 'New Lipi', whereupon the original characters were referred to as 'Old Lipi' ! This gave a wrong attribute of 'primitiveness' to the traditional script, and a pseudo 'modern'/'scientific' feel for the modified script. The alterations in the characters began to affect the formation of words and representation of sounds they were supposed to stand for, very often leading to an erroneous spelling system. Language teachers themselves were confused. A hybrid set of scripts with an idiosyncratic mixture of varying degrees of traditional and new script signs came into use.

While this is just an instance of heedless modification of a seasoned, traditional script in response to a technological challenge in the 1970s, the situation was complicated still further when the existing hybrid script system was encoded for Malayalam word processing with the advent of computer technology in the 20th century. Many word processing packages marketed in Kerala used their own selection of conjuncts to make their fonts. At one time more than 40 different character mappings were available for Malayalam ASCII fonts, which could be a record among the 700 world languages having scripts! This confusion emerged partially due to some uniqueness of Malayalam script, together with the intervention of the state in grading the character set and imposing it on the educational system, as this modified script was thought to represent the spirit of modernity, science, progress and development. This act was not innocent of ideology. It was an act of preparing a language used by 300 lakh people for the emerging future of computation in a society, where one of the accepted signs of 'progress' was becoming freedom from traditions and influences of nature (as opposed to culture).

In 1999 'Rachana Aksharavedi' (Rachana Lipi Forum) was formed with the slogan 'Our Script for Our Language' by a small group of experts in linguistics, computation and literature. 'Rachana Aksharavedi' declared that the 'Old Lipi' was the only solution for the anarchy created by the 'modified script'. Rachana team members collected variants of all the characters in writing and printing that existed for centuries and designed the font named 'Rachana'. However 'authorities' such as agencies of public instruction were hesitant to accept this font set while independent literary figures and the general public embraced it whole heartedly. When Unicode encoding system made its appearance in 2003, this exhaustive character set of Rachana played a major part in the advancement of language technology in Malayalam.

IFA: Could you tell us, how in your view, the series of attempts to modernise the script impacted the aesthetics of the script?

K H Hussain: At the time of designing the first metal typefaces for Malayalam in 1824, Bailey studied various forms of letters prevalent in the southern and northern parts of Kerala. He was keen on assimilating common structural characteristics of all Indian scripts born out of ancient Brahmi script. His design attempt was thereby pan-Indian in nature. When he modelled his types after the shapes found in palm leaf manuscripts written with stylus, he perfected the inherent roundness of Malayalam characters in view of the surface of paper. His attempts consequently moulded not only metal types but the orthography of Malayalam itself.

Beauty of Malayalam is most visible in its rich variety of conjuncts that easily exceeds 900 in number. Pattern of conjunct formation is either horizontal or vertical depending on the basic letters. Curves formed in juxtaposing letters to make a horizontal conjunct, or sizing and positioning a character under another to make a vertical conjunct is an unending source of deriving beauty for calligraphers and type designers. But the modification of script in 1970s made conjuncts redundant and disturbed the aesthetics of the script. When desktop computers started to replace typewriters in 1980s very few conjuncts found a slot in Malayalam ASCII fonts. The truncation of letters that characterised New Lipi continued until Rachana movement. Even during the years when truncated letters were used commercial artists were using Old lipi to design most of the signboards, wall writings and cinema posters. Designers and calligraphers preferred original conjuncts because of its inherent beauty, continuity, flow and its ability to quicklycatch the attention of audience. During the decades that followed Malayalam packages had only truncated typefaces, which imposed an aesthetic monotony in Malayalam print-art and design, until Rachana Akshravedi reclaimed and brought back the beauty of traditional curvatures.

Current Unicode language technology is a boon to all Indian scripts because a single font can accommodate more than sixty thousand characters. The exhaustive character set advocated by Rachana finds its full expression in Unicode fonts. 'Swathanthra Malayalam Computing' (SMC), a group of young IT professionals is engaged in perfecting Unicode Malayalam based on Rachana and they have released nearly eight Unicode fonts. Their current focus is to create more ornamental fonts in Malayalam which can be used for headings and titles. Ornamental fonts will be an infinite terrain for experimentation with orthographies and aesthetics, especially with the progress of graphics in IT.

A group like SMC was established despite the state sponsored agencies with their inherent hesitation in undoing 'script-reformation'. Moreover the current ideology and thrust of 'progress and development' saw such a move of reclaiming the traditional scripts as retrogressive, working against the spirit of modernity.

Examples of Meera Unicode Font

IFA: Could you tell us more about the Rachana movement and the contribution it made in the realm of culture, tradition and education?

K H Hussain: Rachana movement began in 1999 under the leadership of Mr. R. Chitrajakumar, the then assistant editor of Malayalam Lexicon, Kerala University. It was a move against a project named 'Malayala Thanima' (Malayalam Originality) of Kerala State Institute of Language (SIL) which was instrumental in propagating 'New Lipi'. 'Malayala Thanima' project of SIL advocated that the modernisation of the script in 1970 was not sufficient for the computer age, and more reduction of characters was required. Chitrajkumar found an imminent danger in this official move and felt that it will be the beginning of the end of our mother tongue. He formulated the famous slogan 'Our Script of Our language' and started mining for characters lost due to modernisation. Subsequently, Rachana font was designed by me with the assistance of Mr. Subhash Kuriakkose, accommodating all 900 characters listed by Chitrajkumar. At that time Unicode fonts were unheard of in Indian languages and the single Rachana font set was designed using six ASCII fonts. Rachana editor was programmed to render all the conjuncts that were lost due to the modernisation. The Rachana campaign was welcomed whole-heartedly by writers, academicians, scholars, educationists and cultural leaders in Kerala. During the past 15 years of its existence, Rachana font has been used in the production of more than 500 books including monumental works like Ramayana and Bible.

By 2014 Malayalam Unicode was embedded in MS Windows XP, and SMC an open source computing collective came forward to take the opportunity to shape the language technology based on the exhaustive character set of Rachana. Rachana Unicode font with nearly thousand glyphs was redesigned by me, and released as a free and open font under GNU-GPL (GNU General Public license). Other free and open fonts Meera, Keraleeyam, Uroob (all three by me), and Chilanka and Majari (by Santhosh Thottingal and Kavya) followed the same suit of traditional script. Malayalam has become the forerunner in publishing free and open fonts in Indian languages thanks to SMC. Its rendering methods for Unicode fonts is considered to be the most perfect among Indian languages, and has become a solution provider for other scripts. All these achievements were made only because of Malayalam language technology adhering to Rachana's traditional character set. The reclamation of the traditional script set using Unicode had the unexpected consequence of being an ecologically-friendly design owing to its ability to reduce number of characters on a page. By adopting traditional script one can save up to twenty percent of paper and ink, reducing the bulk of the books, saving on transportation costs, and storage space. The reclamation of the traditional font with advanced computing has many takers now ranging from publishers of religious texts and classics, to self-publishing writers using the emerging technological possibilities of open source-on-demand-publishing (POD). The path paved by Rachana has expanded the scope of Malayalam optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Text to Speech. These two technologies once perfected can combine to create technological aids to make printed text readable for the visually challenged. All these advancements in Malayalam computation have taken place mostly due to voluntary and private initiatives. The efforts of state agencies and official experts have been mostly retrogressive.

IFA: How is your new font 'Keraleeyam' developed as a part of the grant by IFA different from the existing ones? What is the motive behind having a new font?

K H Hussain: One of the consequences of above mentioned 'State' of affairs regarding the script was serious monotony of typefaces in Malayalam word processing, digital hoardings, bill boards, commercial arts, etc. where the once rich Malayalam calligraphy almost died out in the public sphere. Impoverishment in the imaginative sphere of almost a quarter century of Malayalam typefaces was visible in all realms of artistic expression ranging from print publications, commercials, hoardings and flex printing, titling in the movies and TV, web designing etc.

The font 'Keraleeyam', designed as a part of the IFA project, is essentially a Malayalam traditional font that inherits all the philosophy that gave birth to Rachana and its traditional character set. While Rachana and Meera are 'body text' fonts like Times Roman and Arial, Keraleeyam is a heavy font like 'Impact', which is best suited for headings, titles and for other design works like signboards, posters, flex, etc. That is why I left out around 400 rare conjuncts of Rachana to form a subset for Keraleeyam, in the belief that no letters from this discarded set will find an expression in design work. Even if it occurs while typesetting using Keraleeyam, the same character can be produced using other characters present in the font without obliterating the basic traditional characteristics.

Formation of such a subset of traditional conjuncts is important for making Unicode fonts in the future, which are in line with Rachana. Currently Rachana possesses the largest collection of Malayalam characters and creating such a font demands months and years. Weeklies and magazines in Malayalam are slowly adopting 'Old Lipi', thereby page layout demands variety in fonts. We urgently need an array of traditional ornamental fonts to meet the page layout demands of weeklies and magazines. Creating Keraleeyam actually served as a comprehensive model for Malayalam ornamental fonts that can be pursued by Malayalam typographers in the future. Based on Keraleeyam's character set I have designed an ornamental font named 'Uroob', other similar fonts are in the process of design.

Image from the website on the Keraleeyam glyphs

IFA: You are in the process of finishing your book on script. Could you give us more details on your intended readers and form of the book?

K H Hussain: First thing I want to do is to compile all the events chronologically that lead to the development of present Unicode based Malayalam language technology promulgated by Rachana movement in 1999. This can be achieved by compiling my own articles published in the past 16 years in Malayalam magazines. State Institute of Language, Kerala, had launched strong campaigns against Rachana from the very beginning and we had to defend our cause for a traditional script, answering every article they published. Naturally their contestations subsided after some years as they came to learn that the support for the 'New Lipi' was gradually declining by new developments in information technology. To their surprise youngsters who had been taught in 'New Lipi' at schools preferred 'Old Lipi' in IT applications. I have about twenty such articles for the book, but I must be cautious on repetitions. Presently I'm reworking these articles avoiding duplication of ideas.

Structural linguistics and its post-structural critique have heavily influenced theories of semiotics and ideas on semantics. However, not many have considered the unique case of fonto-graphy, typefaces, and the status of signs. Conventional theories and understanding of sign and sound are inadequate to explain the slips in sounds/words, and their representation using lipi sets. The dialectic of this process will be taken up afresh in the book with ample illustrations drawn from 'Old Lipi' and 'New Lipi'.

Yet another dimension I would like to uncover is the ideology that coined the phrases such as 'Old Lipi' and 'New Lipi' as explained earlier. I would like to argue here that this was a product of the mentality behind 'modernity'.

I do not intend to document the whole history and evolution of Malayalam script from the very beginning, but want to elaborate on the themes and attempts behind the developments in language technology, following the advent of Rachana. I should focus and highlight the new directions and vision it offered to Malayalam computing. Main audience of the book will be linguists, IT experts working on language, besides experts in pedagogy and thinkers in the field of education.

My book will not be about fonts and typography but it will certainly be about Malayalam script. One of the chapters will be exclusively on Malayalam fonts intended for a new generation of graphic experts engaged in designing Malayalam fonts. They should have a clear idea on which characters they have to work, what are the possibilities in working with the rich array of conjuncts, what models like Keraleeyam are there to depend on to reduce their labour, etc. Without knowing your characters you cannot make fonts!

This interview will also provide a theme for a chapter. The book will be published under the license of Creative Common Attributes i.e. it will have the license of 'Copy Left' instead of Copy Right. The website to be launched soon as part of the project will have links to download e-book versions freely.

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India Foundation for the Arts makes grants to artists, scholars and institutions throughout the year. For all these exciting projects to take shape, we have to constantly raise funds. We would like to thank our donors who have supported us, and made the many projects possible in the last few months. We would especially like to acknowledge the Lohia Foundation for support towards building the IFA Archive, and Citi India for support towards our Arts Education programme, in this quarter.

You can support and engage with IFA in many ways—by becoming a Friend of IFA or a Donor Patron or even by sponsoring our fundraising events and by spreading the word about IFA. Every contribution counts.

bird_bullet   Become a Friend of IFA
Support us by becoming a Friend of IFA. As a Friend, you will be contributing directly to philanthropy in the arts and increasing the presence of the arts in public life. It starts at just 3,500/- a year and your donation is tax-deductible under 80G. You will receive exclusive access to IFA events and our Annual Reports. Become a Friend of IFA.

bird_bullet   Become a Donor Patron
We invite you to donate generously and join IFA's Donor Patron Circles and be a part of the IFA family. By joining IFA's Donor Patron Circles, you can choose to contribute directly to our Corpus or support a specific grantee whose work is of interest to you; you can underwrite operational costs or extend your support to any one of our programmes. Donor Patron circles include Platinum, Gold and Silver categories. Patrons receive a mention in our Annual Report; get exclusive access to IFA events and more. Learn more about our Donor Patron Circle.

bird_bullet   You can support us by sponsoring our events, inviting our grantees to showcase their work at your workplace or home, or even attending our events, and forwarding this newsletter to your friends who are interested in the arts. If you would like to support IFA in anyway, please contact Menaka Rodriguez at

bird_bullet   You can also support us by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter and Youtube. Stay tuned to know more about our projects, initiatives and exciting events!

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India Foundation for the Arts
'Apurva' Ground Floor | No 259, 4th Cross | Raj Mahal Vilas | 2nd Stage, 2nd Block | Bangalore - 560 094

Telefax : + 91 80 2341 4681/ 82/ 83 | Email :

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