100 Book Pact — 25 down!

When the new year was still only a day or two old, I saw this and decided I was going to read hundred books this year. The last time I attempted this (and finished with ease) was more than ten years ago. I was in school, and the idea of reading a book in 2–3 days was completely natural. I had probably been reading more that a hundred books each year without knowing that I had. This year is different—I have grown-up responsibilities now and between work, side-projects, chores and travel, it is going to be no cakewalk. But, I am happy to report that earlier this week I read my twenty-fifth book of the year. Even though I was a few days late and roughly 1.2 books behind, I believe I am on track to meet my goal at the end of 2016.

But there is more to this reading pact than just numbers. Because time is at a premium, is there a change in what I read and how? The most obvious pitfall in trying to read a fixed number of books in a limited time is the urge to read only those books that don’t require a great deal of time, effort or patience. When I realized how behind I was February, that option looked very attractive, but thankfully better sense prevailed. Reading several books simultaneously has been the single most helpful thing for me. It has made it harder for me to slack off. Long or difficult reads simmer along for weeks, while others take a couple of days, or sometimes just a few hours. Deciding what books to read simultaneously has brought me the same joy and satisfaction as planning a week’s meals. There is a balance to be struck between my latest infatuations, and that which is necessary; and between what will bring comfort at the end of a long, debilitating day, and what will be a taxing, but fulfilling project in itself. There need to be flavours and texture to appeal to different moods. If I get this right, things are a breeze.

Seeing all twenty-five books together means noticing patterns and biases. It is, for instance, easy to tell that of the books I have read so far less than a third are written by women. Or that I have only read English books. Roughly two thirds have subject matter connected to India, while less than half are by Indian authors. Fiction makes up just about a fifth of the books I have read, and there is only one graphic narrative. Some of these observations I am happy with; others not so much. I hope that by the time I reach a hundred, I’ll be more pleased with the mix of books I have read in the year.

Here are the books I have read so far, in the order I read them—

  1. Sophia: Princess, Revolutionary, Suffragette by Anita Anand
  2. Breaking Out: An Indian Woman’s American Journey by Padma Desai
  3. The Householder by Ruth Prawer Jhabwala
  4. An Independent Colonial Judiciary by Abhinav Chandrachud
  5. Bread: A Global History by William Rubel
  6. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  7. Wanderings in India and other sketches of life in Hindostan by John Lang
  8. The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker everyone Loves by Jai Arjun Singh
  9. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  10. The Presidency by Gerald W. Johnson
  11. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan W. Watts
  12. Balmukund Gupta by Madan Gopal
  13. India and the World by Jawaharlal Nehru
  14. Ladybird by Design by Lawrence Zeegen
  15. Walking Towards Ourselves edited by Catriona Mitchell
  16. This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh
  17. Unbound: 2000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing edited by Annie Zaidi
  18. City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes
  19. Love and Marriage
  20. Sunlight on a Broken Column by Attia Hosain
  21. How to Thrive in the Digital Age by Tom Chatfield
  22. Dictionaries: A Very Short Introduction by Lynda Mugglestone
  23. Nehru: A Contemporary’s Estimate by Walter Crocker
  24. The King’s Harvest by Chetan Raj Shrestha
  25. Laurie Baker: Truth in Architecture by Atul Deulgaonkar

If you would like to follow what I am reading for the 100 Book Pact, I post about the books on Instagram under #MatraTypeReadsA100.


Street lettering from India and its neighbours

Lots of blogs about street lettering in India have been catching my eye since I started my own last year. Whether it is a case of suddenly being more aware of them because of my little endeavour, or of lots of people making the effort of documenting street lettering in the country around the same time; I think it is a very good thing. I thought it would be useful to make a public list of all such blogs I have come across. This list has my favourite blogs and blog posts that document lettering from the Indian subcontinent. Of course, the list is nowhere close to exhaustive. I’m sure I have forgotten about some blogs that I didn’t bookmark and there must be others I simply haven’t encountered yet. I’ve also not included any Flickr photosets or groups yet. If you think I have missed an interesting collection, please leave a comment here or tell me on Twitter and I’ll try to add it.

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Book covers by Satyajit Ray

The internet, every now and then, throws up great surprises—The Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at University of California, Santa Cruz makes available scanned images of over 200 book, magazine and journal covers designed by Satyajit Ray. Covers such as this one for the book Khai Khai written by his father, Sukumar Ray.


The collection includes about two dozen and a half covers of the literary and cultural journal, Ekshan, founded by Nirmalya Acharya and Soumitra Chatterjee. For every issue of Ekshan, Ray drew or wrote the journal’s name afresh.


There are also close to forty covers of Sandesh, the children’s magazine started by his grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray, in 1913, run later by his father and uncle and revived by him in 1961 after 27 years of being of going unpublished.


Satyajit Ray’s calligraphy, lettering, illustration and graphic design works keep making an appearance on the internet, but this is the most comprehensive online resource of its kind that I have found till date. All the images for this post were sourced from this collection and it can be accessed in its entirety here. For those looking for some context to see these images in, Jayanti Sen’s Looking Beyond: Graphics of Satyajit Ray would be well worth the read.

Newspaper nameplates


Eenadu, a Telugu daily from Andhra Pradesh

I woke up today to the news that the International Herald Tribune is going to be known as the International New York Times from tomorrow. And since I was going through my collection of newspapers for some work, I thought it would be a good idea to scan all the nameplates and collect them in one place. My copy of the International Herald Tribune didn’t make it to the scanner today, but a handful of Indian newspapers did.

The growing collection of images is available on Flickr.


Loksatta, a Marathi daily printed in Devanagari script

Sakal Bela

A Bengali daily, Sakal Bela

Becoming an OPW intern

So many people around me love and work with computers and computer science that their passion has slowly rubbed off on me. I’ve picked up things along the way, and with every tidbit my fascination has only been fueled further. Lately, I’ve begun to feel the same way about FOSS. And just like computers, the more I’ve learned about FOSS, the more interested I’ve become.

In the last few years, there has also been an influx of work and commentary around “free” and “open-source” typeface design. It was, after all, only a matter of time before this movement caught steam; I remember reading the Free Font Manifesto when I was in undergrad. For some time now, I have been thinking about the intersection of FOSS and typeface design from the sidelines. Reading what I can find and engaging in the one-off conversation with friends who are lawyers or software developers who work in FOSS. When I heard about GNOME foundation’s Outreach Programme for Women (OPW), I thought it was a great opportunity to finally get my hands dirty and mind jogging.

Come June 17, and I will join a group of fifty-odd women from around the world to become a participant in the latest round of OPW. In my three months as an intern, I will contribute to further development of GNOME’s UI font, Cantarell (designed originally by fellow Reading alumnus, Dave Crossland). There is a lot I hope to gain from this experience. The first is, of course, the chance to work with and within an open source community and to witness, first-hand, how they operate. After consultation with my mentor Jakub Steiner, I have decided to work on Greek and Cyrillic extensions to Cantarell. Working on non-native scripts is always a challenge, and it will be great to add to the limited, but growing experience I have with these two scripts. Through my interaction with the community online (and also offline if I end up attending GUADEC, GNOME’s annual conference), I will have the opportunity to be an advocate for good typeface design. Finally, being involved in the OPW will, hopefully, give me exposure certain to ideas in the FOSS community that could help me think more critically about typefaces, what they are and how they can be understood as software.

If you’d like to follow my FOSS summer adventure, I will be blogging about my work for the OPW at a separate, dedicated blog. Every now and then, I will also cross-post, like I am doing today and those posts will all be collected here.

Devanagari to Bharati Braille Converter

Amar Jyoti

Last year, the Delhi Typerventions group put up a Devanagari-Bharati Braille installation at Amar Jyoti School, an institute for the visually-impaired, in Delhi. I, of course, was in faraway Cupertino then, but it didn’t stop me from making a small contribution—designing the Devanagari lettering and composing it with the Braille.

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 9.14.04 PM

The most challenging part of this project turned out to be figuring out how to accurately convert the Devanagari poem that had been selected for the installation to Bharati Braille. Tried as I did, it was impossible to find any comprehensive resources online or a converter that would let the lay person convert short texts (most converters I did find were proprietary and prohibitively expensive). I shared my woes with Nirbheek, who helped me a great deal in doing this conversion. Pretty soon, we were discussing the idea of making our very own Bharati Braille converter. A few months of work, a lot of research and many hiccups later, we are finally ready to release the first version.

Introducing Devanagari to Bharati Braille Converter!

The converter is fairly basic at this stage—it can only convert text, and not mathematical content, for instance. We hope to make it more comprehensive with time, and also add support for more Indian scripts. What’s more, it is free and open source. Please do give it a try and spread the word to those who you think can benefit from a tool like this!

Tales from Indian Classics

Since I got back to India a couple of months ago, I’ve spent a lot of time going through boxes in my parent’s house and sorting old books. In these boxes I’ve found a lot of unexpected things (the highlight, a 1893 edition of Chambers’ etymological dictionary) and some old favorites, like this set of two books called “Tales from Indian Classics”. I grew up reading these over and over again. One of the reasons I loved them as much as I did were the illustrations—bold and expressive, and in just two colors, black and orange. It is only today while flipping through them did I realize that they were drawn by Pulak Biswas, an illustrator I have come to adore in adulthood. Who knew I had been a fan for twenty years!


These books were first published in 1965 by Children’s Book Trust, cartoonist Shankar’s children’s publishing initiative, and my copies are a reprint twenty-four years later. Along with Amar Chitra Katha and mythological television shows on weekends, they were my source for stories from the Hindu epics. In my imaginary box of things in which I collect things I’d like to pass on to my future children (or nieces and nephews), these books are right on top of the pile!