Recognizing the Unrecognizable

Shikha Magotra
While cleaning the oldest book rack, the least explored section of the house, kids found some fascinating books written in some strange script. Not able to read even a word of it, after so many tries, they rushed to the mother and said,” Maa, see what we have discovered from the book rack you have told us to clean, these interesting books seem to be written in some alien language.
Mother was busy in cooking some dishes for the lunch. Hearing loud voices from the kids, she left her work in between and moved towards the curious kids. Seeing old, somewhat torn books in their hands, said,” No children, this is not alien language but our priceless heritage. Our great grandfathers used to write in this royal script of their time. The script is called Namay Dogra Akkhar, used for writing Dogri language.
Kids: (surprised) DOGRI! Oh we know it, understand and speak it too. But, still we cannot read these books.
Mother: It is because Dogri is not written in its own script now. It was written in Namay Akkhar before 20th century only.
Kids: Maa, then how would we know what’s written in these books. You managed to preserve such precious heritage of ours for so long, but don’t you think it would be nicer if we could know what’s written in this?
Mother: Hmm…. Right! Wait! I have magical software for you all – A Translator.
Kids: (Fascinated) Wow! The translator can convert the text to other scripts. So, we can convert this script of Dogri to Hindi too, using this software.
Mother: No children, you cannot. It does not incorporate programs to do that for Namay Dogra Akkhar script of ours. But, yes, if such software is programmed for this script too, we can know what’s written on these books easily.
I want to tell you all that some universities in J&K are doing research on it. Recently, students were educated about the formation of Namay Akkhar characters in the 10 day Calligraphy workshop organized by JKAACL, Jammu in collaboration with The Calligraphy Foundation and other renowned Calligraphers w.e.f. 8th July, 2023. There, Calligraphy Instructors described how important it is to revive our own script, to stay more deeply connected with our roots. Participants wrote Devanagari and Namay Akkhar basic characters using Calligraphy.
Kids: (Happily) Interesting! So, we will be able to know it all soon.
Mother: Yes children. But, it may take lot of time like some years or more for digital tools to be developed completely. A translator is basically a combination of Digitization, text extraction and script converter. The software which extracts text from an image is known as OCR. This forms an integral part of any translator. After extracting text, script converter is used to convert into other more readable scripts.
“Children, it’s a long process to build digital translation tools for single script, as each script differs from every other in features. After digitization of manuscripts, text needs to be extracted from the images. For this, complete OCRs need to be designed for the script. It works in three layers generally. The digitized page is cleaned and the background of the text is erased completely so as to highlight only the written text. This is done using certain programs. Then, the cleaned document is broken/ divided into numerous small images, each containing script’s smallest unit- a character form. In this phase, document undergoes segmentation at multiple levels- firstly segmented into multiple images of the lines of text then, each line is segmented into multiple word images present and then each word is segmented into various character images. These character images contain all the characters of the script, the matras used, the conjuncts used as ligatures. Most of the times, the document contains touching characters too. They must be separated using some more programs. For all this, the text must be observed to the subtlest form- each minutest pixel. Like you do X- ray of your body to identify where the breakage lays, similarly one needs to do X-ray of the text to identify single character.
After all this, the computer maps each single image to the script’s alphabets and identifies each of them in sequence. Thus, the text is extracted from the digitized image. Furthermore, the script converter converts extracted text to the alphabets of more understandable script.
Kids were very fascinated knowing the whole translation process.
Mother: It requires long time and enormous research. But you know children, once such tools for Namay Dogra Akkhar are developed, it will uplift our cultural heritage drastically. All over the country, almost every Indian state has developed translators for their regional scripts like Bangla, Telugu, Tamil, Oriya, Gujarati and even our script’s sibling Gurmukhi. People of all the states got so much more connected to their origin, culture after these software development as more and more they came to know about their culture. It makes people strongly connected to their roots.
And you know, it will help in promoting our culture outside the state too, at national and international levels. People all over the world would get to know the interesting J&K’s culture, history, origin, folktales and more. Rare documents even the degraded ones, writings on copper plates, sculptures, paintings, stone carvings all could be decoded into understandable forms using such digital tools, in just a click. Also, we can have large ware house of our script’s characters written in different styles, fonts in the form of small images. People all over the world can use it for research and academic purposes. Our script won’t be an alien script then. Mother stated smilingly.
Kids got delighted and started imagining them using the Namay Dogra Akkhar digital tools when they grow up. They cleaned the heritage books they had and decided to preserve them till the time these researches would be made.
(The author has completed Ph.D. on Takri script from SMVDU, Katra)