Mumbai

Do your math in an Indian language

Mumbai: Often, entrepreneurs get their business ideas from issues they witness in their day-to-day lives. Mumbai-based FlexiLoans is one such. The online lending platform offers quick and easy loans to those who do not have any credit history but have a good business record.

Sreeraman Thiagarajan, entrepreneur, holds WhatsApp as a good example of technology with a local connect. “How many mornings have you woken up to a ‘good morning’ message in your mother tongue?” he says. Mr. Thiagarajan, co-founder of Agrahyah Technologies (AT), has made it his mission to make technology accessible to everyone in the country, irrespective of whether they speak English. “The gap between digital Hindi users and digital English web users in India is huge,” he says.

India has 23 official languages, and the local vernaculars tend to differ every 100 km. There are 234 million Indian language users, as compared to 175 million English Internet users. Indian language internet users have increased to 234 million in 2016 from 42 million in 2011, according to the KPMG-Google Report ’17, ‘Indian languages – Defining India’s Internet’.

To address this gap, AT is building a suite of applications, “ground-up in vernacular languages.” In February 2017, AT unveiled a multi-vernacular ‘Calculator for India’ for Android users. The calculator helps users carry out daily calculations in 11 local languages. This, says Mr. Thiagarajan, is their first step to build a “multi-vernacular web for India”. The calculator is on course to acquire 1,000 users across the country.

Co-founder Rushabh Vasa says, “Our calculator is inspired by the people of India, and built with love in the city of dreams, Mumbai. Mumbai is home to a multi-linguistic population, which Agrahyah is representative of. Its features like M+, M- and AC buttons are a tribute to what we all grew up using.”

Diminishing the linguistic barrier

In a country like India, buying a device as simple as a microwave is a task for the non-English speaking population, since the operation manual does not offer instructions in a single local language. “The company would rather spend money on the demo technician rather than spend a few bucks, printing a user-friendly linguistic manual,” says Mr. Thiagarajan. “Localisation is the only key. We want to be a software company that thinks through all of the common man’s problems.”

Among the “culturally and contextually relevant” suite of products the company plans to build, is a #MyNews app that helps you keep track of the things you care about, in the language of your choice. The company also plans to unveil a lifestyle and entertainment app.

“Every other news platform these days offers news according to the region of the user. But India as a region is huge and hence, they fail to localise,” says Mr. Thiagarajan

What differentiates his company from Google and the UC Browser is this core philosophy. “There are multiple players in the market trying to tear down a level by adding in a language to their software; we are trying to build a ground-up company, focusing absolutely on India.”

Even with Google’s G-board and Google Translate in the picture, Mr. Thigarajan sees a bright future for AT, since their focus is on accuracy in the language on offer. “The uniqueness lies in our calculator offering the language interface of the user’s choice, though we are working to incorporate more Indian languages,” he says.

He also says the app moves beyond translation. “AT aims to create web content in Indian vernaculars. Content, when translated, usually loses its originality.”

Humble beginnings

While ideating in the later half of last year, Mr. Thiagarajan, a marketing professional, and a group of engineers, Rushabh Vasa and Uppal Shah, co-founded Agrahyah Technologies. All the co-founders were acquaintances, and were digital marketers for a while. They got together to address the problem of 450 million Indians who have access to the Internet but are unable to optimise its use due to a vernacular barrier.

The Calculator For India has a built-in memory function and lets the user access a ‘Double Display’ result window, along with a dual number keyboard that allows translating numbers from 10 different Indian languages to English.

Mr. Thiagarajan says initial challenges included compatibility of Indian languages on phones and creating contextually relevant translations at a reasonable speed and scale. “We gained fluency after a good deal of trial and error. We didn’t have a Eureka moment.”

Agrahyah looks at every state as an individual market for ‘Calculator For India’. “Anyone from a student to a business professional from any linguistic background is a client,” says Mr. Vasa.

As far as funding is concerned, the founders have bootstrapped the venture, and do not have plans to seek institutional funding as of now. “The market is getting hotter by the day, but we are happy to be bootstrapped,” says Mr. Vasa.

Agrahyah’s effort may be a drop in the ocean, but the founders are hopeful of change. AT wants to be a software company that “thinks through all of the common man’s problems, not just accessibility.”

“Localisation of web is a process, and won’t happen overnight. At the moment, the scenario is like that of inception period of technology in the ’80s, slow initially, and then booming. It has a long way to go. If you can build, sustain and sell a product well enough, it’s definitely a home run,” says Mr. Thiagarajan.

Snapshot:

Founded: February 2017

Founders: Sreeraman Thiagrajan, Rushabh Vasa and Uppal Shah

Funding: Bootstrapped

Website: agrahyah.com


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Printable version | May 18, 2022 12:14:46 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/do-your-math-in-an-indian-language/article19121641.ece