July 14--AHMEDABAD -- It was his pursuit of writing Gujarati 'shayaris' (verses) that made Mahendra Sharma from Ahmedabad come up with the idea of mobile applications for writing and reading a variety of Indian languages -- twenty-one in fact!
It was in 2010 that Sharma and Nilesh Shah, who had worked together at an outsourcing company, founded NicheTech Computer Solutions Pvt. Ltd. While Sharma is chief technology officer, Shah is chief executive officer.
The company's Indian language project is called Indian Pride and individual apps for writing and reading in local languages named Hindi Pride, Gujarati Pride, etc. can be downloaded from Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
"Initially, we worked on many ideas with others but did not get much success. Then we decided to do something on our own. We found that there weren't many Gujarati language apps around. This is where my love for poetry came in and we came up with an app for Gujarati poetry," according to Sharma.
Apart from facilitating writing in local languages on an English keyboard -- called transliteration -- some Indian Pride apps also share content from renowned poets.
In the last two years, the apps have provided a platform for more than 1,000 new writers and poets to display their creativity.
The apps also host a choice of e-books in some local languages.
For Sharma, who writes poems and short stories under the pen name Premi, poor local language support on smartphones was a problem.
"I used to get some beautiful lines, but they were gone in the next few moments, and I was unable to write them down on my phone. This is when I started working on an app that would support writing in different languages," he recalls.
NicheTech's transliteration tools are called Language Pride Editors, which converts text typed out in the way it is spoken, to the script in the chosen language, so that users do not have to learn to use a new language keyboard.
It has also developed its own "reader app" which is compatible with all languages.
Transliteration for 21 Indian languages is available on Indian Pride apps.
"We want to revive the Indian culture. To do this, we have to revive the languages of India. Using these apps, we will build the confidence in people that there is a lot to read in their own language and introduce a sense of pride in their mother tongue. People can attach feelings to words when they talk, write and read in their own languages," says Sharma.
The company has spent about Rs.25 lakh to develop and market the product and earns at least Rs.4 lakh a month from advertisements and sales of e-books. NicheTech is in close talks with some investors and private equity funds to scale up its operations.
The Bengali Pride app has become popular in Bangladesh, with about 21% of the downloads taking place across the border.
Similarly, the Urdu app has found takers in Pakistan. The Marathi app has been downloaded over three lakh times.
To test a market, NicheTech first launches an editor or a reading and writing app before going for a content app.
"We believe that if there are people who can write, then there must be a market for readers. We have followed this same principle while developing the Russian app and Hebrew app," he says.
To take on competition from companies like Amazon and Flipkart, NicheTech sells regional e-books for as little as Rs.18 to Rs.25. It shares half of its revenues with authors whose books are published online.
However, Sharma admits that many well-known authors and publishing houses do not see them as a serious player yet and hence are reluctant to share copyright.
Apart from Gujarati, NicheTech has developed content in Marathi and Hindi apps as well. Work is on to introduce similar apps in Bengali and Punjabi followed by other regional languages.
Literature content includes poetry, jokes, quotes and e-books.
In one of the largest linguistic surveys carried out, the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre headed by tribal activist and linguistic expert Ganesh Devy identifies 860 Indian languages, with Arunachal Pradesh having the maximum.
The survey which was completed last year showed that 22 of these were scheduled languages while 480 were languages spoken by tribal and nomadic tribes, and about 80 were coastal languages.
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