Games they play
SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO
Learning languages should be fun, believe three former IITians who've developed a Scrabble-like word game in Hindi. Now, await the Telugu version. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo gets the details
The wordsworths (From left) Manuj, Madhumita and Rajat Dhariwal and (below) Aksharit
Manuj Dhariwal was good at playing games. The joke among his friends went, ‘Give Manuj three things and he will build a game with it'. And he made no mistakes. A game he started building in 2005 is changing the way Hindi is being learnt in many schools.
More than 12,000 kits of Aksharit, the Hindi equivalent of Scrabble, developed by Manuj, his elder brother Rajat and his wife Madhumita, are being used in Chattisgarh and West Bengal. Many more states are expected to follow suit.
By the end of this month, the trio plans to unveil the game in a number of regional languages, including Telugu. A few schools and NGOs have volunteered to test the game in their schools.
Play with words
As their Aksharit awaits patent, Rajat rewinds. He and his wife Madhumita, who studied at IIT Mumbai, had shunned lucrative corporate jobs and opted to teach at Rishi Valley School. Manuj, then a student at IIT Guwahati, was drawn by the idea of creating a board game for Indian languages. “He took up the challenge as part of his design project in IIT. At that time, Madhu and I were on a four-month break from Rishi Valley and we liked his idea,” recalls Rajat. That's how MadRat games was founded.
Scrabble, he informs, is available in 30 world languages and yet, not in any Indian language. “For Indian language enthusiasts, there are very few means of learning through fun. We don't have equivalents of Scrabble, Boggle or Lexicon,” says Rajat.
Building the game was a learning experience. Unlike English that has 26 alphabets, Hindi, with its larger number of alphabets and matras, posed challenges. They sought help from language experts. Add to that, there was no comprehensive word list. “We had to know the frequency of alphabets to determine how many points to grant for which alphabets. We ended up writing the software. Some of our juniors who were working with the corporate sector were willing to help us with the challenging code/algorithm. They came on board wanting to do something creative rather than their monotonous work at office,” says Rajat.
It took four years to develop Aksharit, after which they shared it with colleagues at Rishi Valley. “Then, Manuj showcased Aksharit for the Ideas for Implementation 2009 contest at IIM Calcutta and won the contest. Investors came on board and we were told that Akhsarit had the potential to be the game of Indian masses.” The team consulted legal experts and visited more than 70 factories to find the right material to mass produce the game.
Today, there are seven variants of the educational and digital versions to suit children in different age groups and adults. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharastra have shown interest to test Aksharit for a pilot project.
“As an educational tool, the game has appealed to language teachers and even NRIs. Voluntary organisations like Eklavya, Vidya Bhavan Society and Azim Premji Foundation have also shown interest,” adds Rajat.
Nokia made it available for downloads on its Ovi app store for its N8 phones and Intel will follow suit, bundling Aksharit for its netbooks and Intel Learning Services, making the game available in five languages.
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