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Thank him if you're reading eBooks in your native language

Last updated on: February 17, 2014 17:41 IST

Thank him if you're reading eBooks in your native language

Arthur J Pais

Meet Sayamindu Dasgupta who co-founded Ankur Bangla, a project that allowed kids to read eBooks in their own languages.

Millions of children -- and their mentors -- worldwide use the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group's Scratch project, in which Sayamindu Dasgupta plays a vital role, to program games, animated stories, and art.

Before joining the MIT team, Dasgupta, 29, a West Bengal University of Technology graduate, worked with One Laptop Per Child, where he designed a project that allowed kids to read eBooks in their own languages.

"I have been doing similar things from my high school days in Kolkata when I co-founded Ankur Bangla with the help of like-minded volunteers," said Dasgupta, who has been at MIT for about four years.

"This began as umbrella organisation for a number of projects bringing Bengali/Bangla support to free software.

"I'm interested in empowering children to explore programming with data, especially online data," he added.

"In my research, I have developed a Scratch-based toolkit that enables children to programmatically explore online data.

"With this toolkit, children can not only collect and store data online, but also retrieve data for analysis, visualisation, storytelling.

"But it is not just children who are using it. Their parents or teachers, in fact their mentors, use this toolkit."

Dasgupta, a PhD student at MIT, is featured in Forbes magazine's '30 Under 30' list of the brightest stars under age 30 in 15 fields ranging from finance, science, education to Hollywood and media.

The third annual list has nearly two dozen Indian Americans and a handful of activists and entrepreneurs in India, along with household names like television actress Lena Dunham, Tumblr's David Karp and tennis star Maria Sharapova.

Others like Divya Nag are stars in their own realms.

Dasgupta, who loves to cook and fly kites when he is not in the MIT Media Lab, said his passion for the Bengali language led to the founding of Ankur Bangla

'I worked on a wide range of things, from helping develop a rendering engine to font development, from translating software to building GNU/Linux live-CDs,' he has written.

Ankur Bangla made quite an impact starting some 12 years ago when people started to use computers to chat, e-mail, browse the Internet, access an archive of public domain works by Bengali writers and read the almanac (ponjika) in Bengali, Kolkata's The Telegraph newspaper noted. It was called 'the first successful project of localisation of Indian languages.'

Blogging last year about his first steps into Ankur Bangla, Dasgupta recalled how he had little clue about local language computing but was driven by the passion to create a system.

'It was an exciting and meaningful project to work on, and I had found people from other parts of the world who were interested in collaborating with me over email and IRC,' he wrote.

'In August 2002, I suddenly got contacted by a group of people (among whom was Venky Hariharan), inviting me to join an Indic Computing Workshop in Bangalore.

'After a bit of back and forth which looked like "Oh, but I'm just a high-school student", "that's fine, we want you to be here", etc, I finally found myself in a plane to Bangalore (tickets courtesy the organisers).

'Once in the workshop though, I started to have a major attack of what I would now probably describe as imposter complex. I was definitely the youngest attendee in the workshop -- most of the other participants were either professional developers, or established members of the open source community. There was a significant presence from academia as well.

'The anxiety eased a bit over the next couple of days -- it was an incredibly fun and friendly community, and I was glad to find people who shared the same passion around Indic computing that I did at that time.'

"We have been doing exciting things, making a big impact worldwide," Dasgupta told India Abroad. "When Forbes magazine interviewed me, I did not think I would make the '30 under 30' list. This is a big encouragement."