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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

digital malayalee

Where in the world is the Digital Malayalee?


The Malayalam print media is and always has been doing well compared to other languages. Book publication and sales have burgeoned, and new magazines on various specialized areas are hitting the stands quite regularly. For instance, if business/finance magazines were unheard of or a rarity a decade earlier, it is no longer so. Similarly, we now have exclusive magazines devoted to automobiles, male fashion, electronics, cable television industry etc, besides the umpteen rags on crime and pornography. We have very glossy magazines like Take 1 devoted entirely to Malayalam cinema and targeting the malayalee diaspora. All this is apart from those ‘little’ magazines that still come and go like meteors in regular frequency.

But this trend has not had any significant impact upon the digital domain. Despite the presence of an expanding and vibrant community of avid readers, the netizens among them are obviously a very negligible minority. One reason is the demographics of Kerala population in which the proportion of youngsters is gradually narrowing, making all our ‘intellectual activities’ in print an exercise in geriatrics. Our aging population of the print-obsessed readers obviously is not at home with the use of computers or with the thrills of internet. As a result, very few of the literary or other works in Malayalam have been digitized and made available for a global community. (We will discuss about the commendable initiatives in this area in another edition.)

This is the case even with a medium like cinema, where digitization is at least limping ahead in comparison to literature. Though VCDs and DVDs of many Malayalam movies are available, they have been produced only with the malayalee population in mind. The wider possibilities of reaching a global community of cineastes have never occurred to its producers. These CDs don’t have multilingual subtitles or any other additional features, which make it impossible for them to address a wider audience of cineastes who would love to watch it. as a result, the potential of translating the growing interest in Malayalam cinema worldwide generated by our filmmakers due their presence in international festivals etc into a global interest in Malayalam cinema is never becoming a reality. This has denied our filmmakers from reaching out and many a Malayalam movie fan from other parts of the country and abroad the chance of getting to know our movies more widely and in depth. For instance, if somebody wants to watch an Aravindan or Adoor movie, where does he go? This sheer lack of digital format is definitely getting reflected in the global attention our cinema commands compared to other regional cinemas in India and outside.

This allergy towards the net and the digital is going to take a huge toll on us unless we address the issue on a war footing. Despite the facility and economy of digitisation and the infinite possibilities it opens up, we have not shown serious interest in this endeavour. As a result, our digital presence is very feeble and poor compared to others. Take Wikipaedia for instance. You search for a malalayalee personality, and you draw a blank.At the moment if you Yahoo search ‘Kerala’ you get 12 million sites, but search for any specific information about a malayalee personality or aspect in the net and you will feel the draught. Malayaleee history, culture, art, literature, politics, news, etc do not find their rightful presence in the digital domain except for some initiatives like www.grass-roots.in which comprehensively covers all media reports related to Kerala, kerala.free-knowledge.org, a free software attempt at creating a comprehensive ‘creative commons’ related to Kerala and www.cinemaofmalayalam.net which gives some information about Malayalam cinema history. As regards Malayalam content in the net, the situation is even more pathetic, something that is undergoing gradual change with the development of Unicode based fonts and the efforts of the Malayalam bloggers worldwide.

We are indeed living below digital poverty line. And this is an issue to which the malayalee has to wake up immediately.

C S Venkiteswaran
venkity@gmail.com

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