Urdu joined the club of Indian languages on the cyber highway with the launch of Urdutools and Urdupedia in the first week of August by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), an autonomous body under the HRD Ministry.
The two key facilities have been developed by the Department of Electronic and Information Technology (DeitY) and Department of Indian Language Technology Proliferation and Deployment Centre (known by its abbreviation TDIL) of the C-DAC at Pune. Union Telecom and IT Minister Kapil Sibal launched the two facilities on August 4 at Zakir Hussain College in Delhi. This will enable users to send email, chat, tweet and post on Facebook in Urdu. Content creation and communication are some of the major requirements for language growth and keeping this in mind, as a first step, Urdu fonts and keyboard drivers have been released by the NCPUL. This will allow people to collect e-content in Urdu on the Internet just as it is done in English. To begin with, the NCPUL has provided the Urdu content creation framework based on MediaWiki. It also makes available the Urdu keyboard manager and Urdu key fonts.
The Urdu keyboard is compatible with Windows as well as Android for mobile phone users. To boot, the Urdu ‘Naskh’ font has been made available in 12 different styles, while the ‘Nastaliq’ font is available in one style. Nastaliq is the more popular font used by Urdu newspapers, journals and books in India. ‘Naskh’ though cursive is linear in nature. Each letter joins the next, moving from right to left. The glyphs change shape according to the place they occupy within the word. Strictly defined by norms laid down by tradition, the visual beauty of Naskh lies in the seamless manner in which each letter joins the next letter to create a text that is as attractive as a drawing.
Urdupedia follows the pattern of Wikipedia where any user can submit entries on various issues and subjects that will then be edited by a moderator. The framework is powered by MediaWiki platform and C-DAC GIST has provided facility for Urdu support by integrating ‘Onscreen Urdu language’ keyboard and ‘Unicode-compliant font’. Hitherto, the Urdu users had to depend on foreign-based Urdu tools, chiefly from Pakistan. It was therefore not possible to register Urdu web portals on .in IDs, our indigenous domain.
Right to left
While English and all Devanagri-based scripts are written from left to right, Urdu script proceeds from right to left. This poses a few challenges, especially when terms from English or other Indian languages, numerals or diagrams have to be inserted within the Urdu text. The TDIL had to overcome this technological difficulty.
According to Khwaja Ekram, chairperson of the NCPUL, who was contacted over the telephone, there are a few more milestones to be crossed by Urdu. The NCPUL will launch Urdu Search Engine and OCR tools (Optical Character Recognition) on October 2. The availability of Urdu tools also offers Akash tablet users the chance to use Urdu for communication and computing purposes.
The facilities can be accessed on the following websites:
www.urdutdil-dc.in, www.tdil-dc.in. and www.urducouncil.nic.in.
For Urdupedia: http://urdupedia.in/index.php?title=
For Urdu Encyclopedia: http://urducouncil.nic.in/Encyclopedia/Encyclopedia.pdf
(The writer is a freelance journalist who writes for several media organisations, including the BBC World Service.)