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A decade of Bengali Wiki - caleidoscope

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 4.01.15

A St. Bernard takes a break at a dog show organised by the Calcutta Canine Club at Science City. Around 44 different breeds participated in the event. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta

On a January day in 2004 was born the domain,, giving readers access to an online open-source encyclopaedia in Bengali. Its English cousin was already three years old. Closer home, the Punjabi, Assamese, Odiya domains were a year and half.

Local Wikipedia volunteers are coming together to celebrate the Bengali domain's 10th anniversary in a grand manner with a two-day conference at Jadavpur University, in collaboration with the School of Languages and Linguistics, on January 9 and 10.

"We started with barely 1,000 articles. Now we stand at 35,000," said Jayanta Nath, one of the founder-members who is now secretary of the India chapter of Wikimedia Foundation that runs Wikipedia.

"We have about 450 active Bengali editors and 10 administrators for the site. Most of them are from Bangladesh. We need more participation from Bengal, especially from the academic and student community which can act as peer reviewers for articles that get posted," said Tanmay Bir, the joint convener of the conference.

A total of 22 delegates will come to the meet on Wikimedia sponsorship, 17 of them from Bangladesh. There will be others, too, working on Wiki domains in Indic languages such as Kannada, Telugu, Punjabi and Odiya.

"This will also be the first time that Wikipedia volunteers from across the country and beyond the border will meet face to face," said Kalyan Sarkar, the chairman of the Special Interest Group for the foundation in Calcutta.

On Day 1, a workshop will be held to teach how to type, edit and create new articles for the Bengali Wikipedia as well as ways to contribute to other projects of the foundation like Wikisource and Wiktionary in Bengali. "We are also holding what we call a Wiki marathon, in which editors will enrich articles related to Bengal through the day. The best articles written by new users will be recognised," said Sarkar.

"There are only 4.7 per cent users of Wikipedia in India while a meagre 1.3 per cent contribute in the editing. There are Wikipedia domains in 20 Indian languages. We want people speaking all languages to benefit from technology. Language should not remain a barrier," said Mahidas Bhattacharya, the director of the JU school partnering the event.

Art for passion

A motley group of professionals decided to paint a fresh canvas of their lives. Tired of work pressure and deadlines, they took to painting to express themselves.

Guided by mentor Pranab Roy, who urged them to showcase whatever they created, a cop, a retired school teacher, a civil engineer, a chartered accountant and an aviation professional held an exhibition of their works at Gallery Gold last month.

"I used to paint when I was young, mostly watercolours. But I gave up as I started working till I picked up a brush again two years ago," said Priyankar Dugar who works in the airline industry and dabbles in charcoal, collage, acrylic and installation art.

Fellow artist Partha P. Ghosh, a civil engineer, exhibited among other pieces, some Rathin Mitra-style Calcutta landscapes done in pen and ink that drew a lot of appreciation.

For Prithwish Sarkar, a chartered accountant who took up painting only three years ago, it's been "a sheer joy and the thrill of seeing an image break through a blank sheet".

Retired school teacher Indrani Chaudhuri's still-life portraits dominated the gallery along with cop Debdas Mazumdar's "impasto style with bold brushwork on canvas".

Notes on history

Open-ended history classes, importance of textbooks and how a history book should be written, all this and more were discussed when some leading historians came together for a panel discussion at Victoria Memorial recently.

Focussed on Ishita Banerjee-Dube's first history textbook, A History of Modern India, launched by Cambridge University Press, the panel debated on approaches to and understandings and teachings of modern Indian history.

The discussion was chaired by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Tagore National Fellow at National Archives of India and former vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati. Bhattacharya opened the discussion with the underlying threat to conventional textbooks in the age of digital technology. "With the development of technology, information is available at the click of a mouse. Thus, textbooks have lost the authority they had at one time," he said.

Tanika Sarkar from Jawaharlal Nehru University spoke about plural interpretations and how they could bring historical relativism, while Sekhar Bandyopadhyay from Victoria University of Wellington discussed how to attract youngsters to a history class. "Students must be aware of the many histories and interpretations and the teacher must encourage them to understand what is good history," he said.

The author, who was also part of the panel, emphasised her love and passion for the subject. "My effort has been to try and grasp the multifarious processes between the 18th and 20th century that gave shape to modern India. If the narrative of plural processes whet the appetite of students and teachers, and make them reflect on history and the social world, my book will have served its purpose," she said.

Music with message

A year-long creative endeavour and a fellowship to create awareness about e-waste, water conservation and other environmental issues drew to a close with the launch of a music album.

Microsoft Create to Inspire, a first-of-its-kind endeavour, gave young fellows a chance to create campaigns by engaging in an art form they are passionate about. Mentored by singer-songwriter Neel Adhikari, the music fellows came up with Wired - an album of eight songs on the theme of sustainability. The songs are written, composed and performed by the fellows and mixed and produced by Miti Adhikari.

"It has been a long journey with massive auditions. We chose some and some dropped out along the way. Around five-six were serious about it, writing some great songs on the environment. And I feel they would have written these songs eventually even if this programme hadn't been there. Such is their way of thinking. The songs from the album are so beautifully made that they can appear on any playlist and that proves that they have worked out well," Neel smiled.

Ajey Mehta, managing director, Nokia India ( a subsidiary of Microsoft Mobile Oy), was delighted to be part of the campaign. "The coolest way of being associated with sustainable development is to do it through the medium of art. It is amazing to see this kind of passion for creativity," he said.

The music launch was preceded by a performance of Gandi Baat, a street play on water conservation by the theatre fellows.

Contributed by Sudeshna Banerjee, Anasuya Basu, Dalia Mukherjee & Samabrita Sen