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Tamil Computing-what it is all about

Dear Friends:
We are in a healthy and very fortunate situation that all those
interested in tamil computing are taking part collectively in 
this exercise of defining standards for Tamil Computing. 
Thanks to the modern era gift of Email, we can do this in 
spite of geographical location of the participants spreading 
to the four corners of the world.

Each and every one of us possibly have our own vision of 
what tamil and tamil computing is all about. This tend to 
influence a lot our involvement in the present discussions. 
I also have my global vision of what tamil computing is 
all about and where it should be heading in the coming decade. 
Standards it is for everyone in this universe, not for those
who are with us in the present generation and but also for the 
future generations. So as much as possible we should set aside
personal preferences. 

I see tamil computing springing out in full blast in the coming 
decade. Already we have shown in the recent years that we can
do corresponce in tamil, read the newspapers and magazines
coming out of Chennai  in tamil daily on-line from anywhere 
on this universe.
In some aspects we can be even proud that amongst various
indian languages (have more than 20 major ones), tamil has been
a pioneer in venturing into the evolving, largely dark world of 
multi-lingual computing. We do not have any multi-millionaires 
providing big financial push nor major computer software companies
interested to promote tamil computing (the latter situation is due to 
yet to be demonstrated market for them to invest in the first place).

When I keep pressing to have old style characters and tamil numerals
to assist electronic archiving, many have asked me 
" why do I emphasis on electronic archiving?" As Prof. Hart has 
stated explicitly (sorry for quoting him again, I do have very high
regards and respect for him), the richness and beauty of any
language lies its literature. Without literature the language is
Fortunately tamil has a very rich literature going to 2000 years or
Unfortunately major part of it is NOT available today in hard print.
So even "pseudotamils" like me must make an effort to preserve 
whatever is left of our rich heritage. 

To assist in my personal interest to build a collection of electronic 
texts, last year I spent weeks running around in Chennai to buy a
printed copy of tamil literary classics. Alas, except for a handful of 
popular ones like ThirukuRaL many of them are out of print. 
Only a handful of libraries have the good fortune to have a 
copy of what was written hundred years ago. I heard personally
of the sad situation in which some of the  "venerable" tamil 
publishing houses such as Saiva Siddhantha Trust, 
Thirupanandal madam etc cannot reprint/publish many of the 
tamil literary classics that are out of print "due to lack of
Someone contacted me recently for raising funds overseas so that 
twelve thirumarais can be reprinted.

I am not sure if you have heard already the pathetic story with Roja
Muthaiah's precious tamil book collections. Here was a noble
soul who spent all his lifetime collecting in his backyard thousands
and thousands of precious old tamil publications (over 50000).
When he became ill and can foresee his end coming up, he struggled
hard for years to find someone within Tamilnadu to preserve and
take care of his lifetime collections. No one did till, by sheer luck
(and good fortune of all tamils), people at the Univ. of Chicago
happen to hear about it. They took the initiative of raising the 
necessary funds and ensured the preservation of these precious
manuscripts. They are currently microfilming the entire collections
and these will be available for anyone world wide. In my opinion
efforts of this kind must come in the first place by tamils.

Electronic archiving exercise is NOT an ego trip of few bumps who
love to play with computers. Electronic archiving helps on one
hand preserve our rich heritage but it will also allow facilitate
world-wide distribution practically at no cost. (I have already
the personal satisfaction that I could email free copies of etexts of 
a handful of tamil classics to tamils placed in remote part of the
world). We are heading towards a paperless era. One does not 
have to be a computer professional to understand this. 

As I said earlier, what ever is left of our rich tamil literature in 
the form of books is being eaten away fast by insects
and pests. To my knowledge, till date, there are no organized
efforts on the part of either rich philanthropists nor Tamilnadu
Government to publish/reprint these fast disappearing collections.
Institutions such as International Inst. of Tamil Studies and Inst. of 
Asian Studies are symbolic and just the beginning. For the amount
of vast literature that we have, we need hundreds of such institutions
and individuals. (If we are lucky we can find one or two of U.Ve.S 
like in a generation-oops he is a brahmin !!!)
In its absence, if few individuals and overseas institutions do show
interest to preseve OUR rich heritage, the least we can do is to provide
them with a font that can help them to do what they want to do.
No historian or indologist would like to have old literature to be
archived using any script (glyph) than what was used at that time.
In the hands of smart individuals computers can do wonders.
We do not have to sacrifice anything even in the character encoding
scheme by keeping a handful of those glyphs that we do not use.
Global vision and tolerance to accommodate other goals are essential.

So, in conclusion, the character encoding that we are talking about
will go to define a tamil font that we all will use in our personal 
computers. But if the tamil font is defined in such a way that it will
adequately meet the requirements for electronic computing (if you
are not yet clear on what these are, please consult the posting I made
yesterday on UC Berkeley Unicode Project) it can be put to good
use rightaway. To me this activity is as much premordial for 
preservation of our rich heritage as our typing trivial day-to-day 
routine correspondance in tamil. 

I am not responsible for what has been written in pure or "polluted
tamil". I am an ordinary individual whose mother tongue happens to
be tamil and who feels that something can be done to preserve and
promote tamil in the present computer era. I am too illiterate to make
judgements on what has been written is pure or not.

I am sorry if people do not see the same way I see how the world
of tamil computing should evolve to. Honestly whatever I set out
to do in the recent three/four years related to tamil computing 
(development and distribution of a free tamil font, building up of
a tamil electronic library web site, present interests to participate
in ongoing efforts to define tamil standards etc.) have nothing to do
with the blunt truth that I was born and brought up as a brahmin.
I have no intensions to use this or any other forum to discuss 
whether I am proud to be a brahmin or not. It is nobody's business.
If people do not see that way, it is bad luck.

Thanks a lot for taking time to read through this post.

With best regards, 

PS:  Our school has very strict adminstrative guidelines that we
cannot use the internet resources of the school to engage in caste
wars or diatribes. So I have to be very selective in what I say.
 I do not have an email connection at home yet.
Even if I do, I consider it a waste of time in indulging in such
futile activities. Sorry

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