Bangalore Diaries/A visit to Brahmi Computing

On Thursday evening, I caught an auto to travel across Bangalore to meet the guys at Brahmi Computing. Now, the only way I really knew of them till then was through their website and Twitter account, and so I was not only looking forward to meeting them in person, but also finally seeing their Indian language computers and keyboards.

Keyboards and Computers

The Indian language keyboards at Brahmi computing looked very easy to use [the Devanagari keyboard can be seen above], and from the success stories I heard from Mahesh, there should be no reason why they wouldn’t become popular. Sadly, they are not available in the market yet. What is available, though, is their Indian language computer, Chotu, which is a small laptop that doubles as a tablet device.

While this did not strike me while I was at their office, looking at the keyboard now, I wonder if a small change will make them more intuitive –

Original Brahmi Keyboard and its structure

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Modified Brahmi Keyboard and its structure

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I wonder what Mahesh and Naveen (of Brahmi Computing) would think about this.

Was the scribe a show-off – the inscriptions at Brahmagiri
After demonstrating the keyboards and computers to me, Mahesh shared with me some ongoing research being conducted at Brahmi computing. This research deals with the Brahmi inscriptions at Brahmagiri in Karnataka. This subject is also of special interest to Naveen, who is the resident epigrapher.

These inscriptions are rock edicts from the time of king Ashoka, and were excavated in 1891 by Benjamin L. Rice. Located at Brahmagiri near Siddapur in Karnataka, these inscriptions are believed to be an indication of the southern extent of the Mauryan empire. They establish the identity of Brahmagiri as the ancient site of Ishila, one of emperor Ashoka’s provincial capitals.

These inscriptions are signed written by the scribe Chapada, and what is truly interesting is the fact that while the inscription itself is in Brahmi, the scribe has used Kharoshti in his signature. Kharoshti was used in the north-western region of the empire and this raises important questions about the mobility of scribes, and the emphasis laid on making inscriptions in regional languages even if the scribe had traveled from far. I couldn’t help but wonder (and that too very loudly) if the scribe was just a show-off!

Brahmi Computing’s complete research about these inscriptions should be published some time this year, and I cannot wait to lay my hands on it.

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Comments 10

  1. Prateek May 22, 2011

    Wonder if this straightforward linear mapping is easy to adopt. I’ve found that the phonetic (k -> क, y -> य) QWERTY mapping adds little to no cognitive load when switching between Roman and Devanagari.

    It’ll be interesting to compare these mappings on first-time keyboard users, on those used to the QWERTY layout, on non-English speakers and on those habituated to transliterating Indic languages in the Roman script.

    • Pooja May 22, 2011

      I see what you mean. These keyboards are primarily for vernacular users, and at least I felt that this linear mapping makes a lot of sense for them. Phonetic mapping to QWERTY layouts maybe unnecessary, also since one-to-one correspondence won’t come by.

  2. Farah Rahman May 23, 2011

    I agree with you Pooja that your organization of the alphabet makes more sense. I had suggested this to Mahesh back in 2001 when we filed for the patents.

  3. Mahesh May 23, 2011

    Thanks for the writeup, Pooja.

    About your suggestion – we chose the first method because we usually learn the Varnamala with the च row below the क row, not next to it. Our goal was to make it as simple as possible for first-time, vernacular Indians. However, we can certainly offer this alternative if users find it intuitive, as our IP covers these variations.

    Note, we do use your method in Tamil, because Tamil has a smaller set of consonants. Here all the Varg consonants fit linearly on one horizontal row and all the Non-Varg consonants fit on the row below.

    • Pooja May 29, 2011

      Thanks Mahesh for your response! I understand your reasoning behind the current layout. I felt after thinking a bit more, that the current layout follows that reasoning at face-value. The च row is below the क row in the varnamala, but that suggests that the च row follows क row, and not necessarily comes below it. I hope you don’t mind my two cents here 🙂

  4. John Frank May 23, 2011

    I am familiar with design and patents–my recollection is that it was all Mahesh Jayachandra’s design and Ms. Rahman tried to help in marketing. Mahesh also built the drivers for the keyboard–it is adaptable to most PC platforms though the Microsoft operating system is made more difficult by that company’s rules. The Chotu sure looks like the computer for India!

  5. Farah Rahman May 23, 2011

    Yes, John Frank aka Paul Jeddeloh, the Chotu is the computer for India. I had it made right here in Pomona, California for Brahmi Comuting. 🙂

  6. Santosh Kshirsagar May 24, 2011

    Pooja it is nice of you to share this with all of us.
    It made me recollect 1990’s Vividha key board developed under guidance of Prof. Joshi and team of NCST specially Dr. Suresh and Dr. Mudur were key scientist. Unfortunately some how (i was too young to know may be(?) why it was not marketed i still don’t know. On Vividha key board we were the people responsible to design OS fonts for first four scripts, I did Oriya then. And it was design in such a manner that just with one toggle key transliteration was possible. I mean if one types POOJA once he/she will get transliteration of the name in four different scripts. The future plan was to make it for all Indian scripts. Any way sadly (?) technology has change drastically and now its just a history. But i still think all though technology on surface will always change (not necessary develop, many a times just as marketing strategy?) but core logic will not die. I think it is still very much possible. All that is one should have will and put unanimous effort..its just math’s away..isn’t it?
    I also remember once R K mention about scribe Chapada as first Calligrapher of India.
    With so much a eureka.. expressions on his face…and that was a movement i recollected. As if he was trying to tell me that we found our forefather..”Chapden likhitum idum” was the Sanskrit line he pronounced…wowo..thanks Pooja once again for reviving my memories. All the best for your blog activity…keep it up..proud of you. Santosh

  7. R May 27, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this. I am really keen on giving these a try someday. My grandfather was convinced this would be a successful experiment one day and I am only eager to see how they are being adopted. The language is far too complicated to get used to on a keyboard of this nature. I am so intrigued at this point.

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