TODAY -

E-Pao! Opinion - Meetei Mayek and Unicode

Meetei Mayek and Unicode
- Making the Script Immortal -

By: Tabish Qureshi *



Meetei Mayek, the indigenous script of Manipur, has a history which makes an interesting subject both for a linguist and a historian. The destruction of the script by burning all the documents in the early 18th century and its resurrection, almost from the ashes, hundreds of years later, reminds one of the mythical bird phoenix which is supposedly consumed by fire, and then rises again from its ashes.

Meetei Mayek is back, and has been given its due place. However, one might surmise if the script is hundred percent safe today. What if some whimsical tyrant comes to power and decides to destroy the script again? Well, I will argue that in this era of new technology and digital information, it is practically impossible to carry out such a destruction.

Computers store everything as numbers - whether you write a story or type in a long proof of a mathematical theorem, the computer stores everything as just numbers. So, a research paper by Einstein or the epic of Khamba-Thoibi, are all stored as a sequence of numbers in a "file" in a computer. The computers in turn store these numbers on some storage devices like hard-disks, CDs, DVDs, floppies and now pendrives.

DVDs and pendrives are portable media, each of which can store several gigabytes of data. To give you an idea of how much space a fat book occupies, the whole Bible occupies only 4-5 megabytes (MB) of data. And one gigabyte is about a thousand MB! So, one can imagine that a tiny pendrive or a DVD can store thousands of books the size of the Bible.

Now, imagine if in the time of king Pamheiba, the technology were as advanced as today. People could have stored all the puyas that were ever written, on a single DVD or on a tiny pendrive, the size of a fountain pen cap! People could compress files of a puya and email it to some account in some other country.

The historical and holy text that was mindlessly destroyed by burning the puyas, could easily have been sent to "safe" places, where Pamheiba's rule did not hold In a matter of seconds, a thousand copies of a puya could be cloned. In such a situation, it would be humanly impossible for someone to erase every trace of a manuscript.

This would have been the scenario, had this technology been around at that time. Sadly, it did not exist then. However, this technology is around now and it is up to us to make the best use of it, in spreading the script, using the script, and popularizing it.

To popularize the script we don't need any library burning fanatics - we only need the internet, computers, and the power of digital media. We don't even need as many teachers, the online tutor programs can easily teach Meetei Mayek to anyone interested. One only has to be interested

The hotch potch of character maps

Now-a-days one can use Meetei Mayek on computers after installing appropriate software. So, have we done everything that needs to be done? The answer is no, and I will explain that in a moment. Those who visit E-pao site regularly must have frequently seen lines like the following:

Meitei Mayek Poem :: fHgd_ra samNyada



A newcomer wonders what it is, but a computer geek informs him that he doesn't have the right font installed on his computer. And if that it done, these strange words will actually be displayed as Meetei Mayek. Why does this happen? This happens for the following reason.

Computers store alphabets as numbers - so, there are certain numbers associated with the Roman letters A, B, C, D etc. The Meetei Mayek font provided by E-Pao maps the Meetei Mayek characters to the same numbers that are used by Roman letters. So, a newcomer who doesn't know that this text is to be viewed with E-Pao's font, sees some gibberish text.

The problem is made worse by the fact that there is not just one Meetei Mayek font, there are several, and each has its own mapping of characters. So, a document written in Meetei Mayek using one particular font, will appear as gibberish if seen using some other Meetei Mayek font.

So, as things stand now, if a document is typed in Meetei Mayek and sent by email to somebody else, he/she cannot make any sense out of it. So, the gigabytes of stored documents may just appear to be garbage. What one person writes cannot be easily understood by another - this is not a healthy scenario in this era of information technology.

The Unicode standard

So, is there a solution to this mess? Yes, the answer is Unicode (www.Unicode.org) which is becoming the de-facto standard for storing text in computers. Unicode provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, no matter what the program, no matter what the language.

Once the Unicode standard is adopted, each character will be unique, it will not be replaced by mistake by any other character. A document typed using Unicode standard, will be understandable by everybody, without any ambiguity. Unicode aims to assign a unique number to every characater of every script that exists in the world.

Even the scripts which have died out, and are no longer in use, will be included in the Unicode standard. This will make storing of old documents in old scripts possible.

The Unicode Standard has been adopted by such industry leaders as Apple, HP, IBM, JustSystem, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Sun, Sybase, Unisys and many others. It is supported in all modern computer operating systems like Linux, Windows XP and MacOSX.

Most scripts of India, like Devanagari, Tamil, Malayalam, Urdu, Bengali, have already been included in Unicode. Now comes the million dollar question - has Meetei Mayek been included in the Unicode standard? The answer is, not yet.

However, the process is under way. The task of preparing a draft for assigning the numbers to Meetei Mayek characters is being coordinated by Michael Everson of Ireland, who is an expert in the writing systems of the world, in consultation with learned persons, and scholars who have done research on the script, both Manipuris and non-Manipuris.

The draft proposal for encoding of Meetei Mayek has been finalized and sent to the review board of Script Encoding Initiative (SEI). The SEI, established in the UC Berkeley Department of Linguistics, is a project devoted to the preparation of formal proposals for the encoding of scripts not yet currently supported in Unicode. So, everything is in the pipeline now, and it is only a matter of time before Meetei Mayek will become part of the Unicode standard.

One might wonder what difference it will make to a layperson when that happens. Once it happens, the computer you buy, which comes preloaded with Windows or Linux, will already have Unicode compatible fonts, capable of displaying Meetei Mayek characters, installed.

You will be easily able to type documents, send emails and chat in Meetei Mayek. And the documents you type and the websites you make in Meetei Mayek, will not appear as gibberish to others - they will appear faithfully as Meetei Mayek.

Which form of Meetei Mayek?

We all know that the controversy regarding which form of Meetei Mayek should be used, has not died out completely. The two camps have their own reasons to promote 27- or the 35-letter form.

One might feel apprehensive about which form of the script Unicode is going to adopt, and whether that will be the right thing to do. Well, the experts who discussed this aspect came to the conclusion that it will be best to include all the characters from all the forms of the script, in Unicode.

This will leave room for using any form of Meetei Mayek in the future. For example, if the currently adopted 27-letter form continues in the future, it will be fully Unicode compatible, and yet if there exist some old manuscripts, which were written in the 35-letter form, they can also be typed and stored using the Unicode standard, by using the extra characters encoded in Unicode. Encoding certain characters in Unicode doesn't mean that people have to use them - they can use those characters if they want to.


Figure 1: A schematic representation of the codespace. The code blocks for a few scripts have been indicated.



A wee bit of techincal stuff

Now that we have come this far in the discussion, we might as well take a peek at what this coding looks like.

The character codes are basically sequences of four hexadecimal numbers, prefixed with a "U+". Hexadecimal numbers are 16 in number (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F). Code elements are grouped logically throughout the range of code points, called the codespace.
Figure 2: The proposed chart of Unicode characters for Meetei Mayek.
The coding starts at U+0000 with the standard ASCII characters, and continues with Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, Indic and other scripts; then followed by symbols and punctuation. Figure 1 shows a schematic representation of the codespace.

In the codespace chart in figure 1, the fourth number of the code-sequences has been suppressed. For example, the single upper left blue box represents numbers U+0000 to U+000F. One can see blocks of numbers representing various scripts. The numbers U+1C80 to U+1CCF have been reserved for Meetei Mayek.

The chart of Meetei Mayek characters proposed for Unicode is displayed in figure 2. It displays three numbers of the sequence as the column number, and the fourth as the row number. Thus, for example, "kok" will be assigned the code U+1C85 and "til" will be assigned the code U+1C94.

At this point the reader might have the feeling that this Unicode thing looks too complicated and how will simple users cope with it. The answer to that is that all this coding remains in the background and the user doesn't have to bother with it.

For example, for typing "kok" the user wouldn't have to use some complicated method of typing the code U+1C85. The software will take care of how the user types.

For example, while using a word-processor, one may just have to select the script "Meetei Mayek" from a menu, and then just press "k" to type a "kok". The word-processor will take care of translating the "k" to the Unicode character code corresponding to "kok".


* Tabish Qureshi contributes regularly to e-pao.net . The author can be reached by email at: tabish(AT)jamia-physics.net . This article was webcasted on January 06th, 2007.


* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of e-pao.net. We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.


LATEST IN E-PAO.NET
  • Hinduism in Manipur # 1
  • Foundation of School Fagathansi Mission
  • Healing Leadership- Need of the Hour
  • Shri Krishna Janmasthami :: Book
  • Police : A friend or a foe ?
  • Cry of a Dying River - 90 :: Poem
  • King Leishemba attended HUNIC, Thailand
  • MBA in Global Supply Chain Management
  • Significance of Aug to NSCN (IM)
  • Restoring public education system
  • Lai-Harouba @JNMDA #2 : Gallery
  • Sangai fest: Dance Drama : Gallery
  • Our Destiny Lies Only In Our Unity
  • Hanging : Suicide or homicide ?
  • Trainees from Ukhrul selected as Air Crew
  • The Killing Fields 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • NPF met with Nagaland Governor
  • NH7 Weekender Artists for Meghalaya
  • NH7 Weekender Artists for Pune
  • Studying how schools are run
  • Nature- the answer to global warming
  • N'Jang-Ngi Thangal fest : Gallery
  • TB is preventable & curable
  • Fake :: Poem
  • Pradhan Mantriji's 'Leirum Lengyan'
  • B Voc / M Voc courses at DM College
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Awareness Program on Child Rights
  • Mountain Echoes, Bhutan Festival
  • Ambeshori : Gold at Nation's Cup, Serbia
  • Th Muivah : Man in the news
  • Doctors: scapegoats of a faulty system
  • Jhulon @ Nabadwip, WB : Gallery
  • Chinguremba, Adon Yanglen :: eMing
  • School Fagathanshi Mission : Gallery
  • GojiLove : Top 20 biggest startup of India
  • Manju & Aneshori : Bismillah Award 2018
  • Healthy & active lifestyle: A healthy Manipur
  • Football Kits Distribution at Kshetrigao
  • Reiterating ST status demand for Meiteis
  • Lapses of duty and knowledge
  • NSCN (IM) against Ravi as Interlocutor
  • Nagaland Nagas need a common platform
  • Heikat-Leikat [13 Aug] #2 : Gallery
  • 13 August: Day to remember the heroes #2
  • Dynamic groundwater resources...
  • Lukanand Ksh & Langpoklakpam Melody
  • Meiraba winner @ All India Badminton
  • Archers win at World Police & Fire Games
  • 73rd Independence Day: One Constitution
  • Preparatory Revision Course at Sanakeithel
  • IIT Guwahati's half marathon
  • Getting the best out of Govt schools
  • Babysana: Student - Aug 10 #2: Gallery
  • Jhulon @ Imphal #1 : Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • A Soldier speaks over Timeline of Kashmir
  • Tamenglong not be used as a money field
  • Food intolerance - Diagnosis & tests
  • That Jungle of a Garden :: Poem
  • International Day of Indigenous People
  • Saving future Manipur- need of the hour
  • Chayom Thupki (Meetei Philosophy) #9
  • Independence Day : Gallery
  • Suicide: how it looks like & what is
  • Manipur's 1st photojournalist, Santosh Ph
  • Mutum Ramo : President's Police Medal
  • A Letter to my Mother
  • Candle Light at Delhi for Babysana
  • In search of the elusive unity
  • Naga solution anytime soon, says Ravi
  • Landscape Dzukou Valley #1 : Gallery
  • Indigeneity: Expression & Experience : Book
  • Cry of a Dying River - 89 :: Poem
  • Career in youth development
  • The Wind Will Carry Us : Film screening
  • Communication Course for Development
  • Impact of Christianity among Vaiphei #1
  • Dolaithabi Barrage: An emerging failed Dam
  • New India in Konung Lampak
  • High Court & Workers on Sand Quarrying
  • Niranjoy attempt to break Guinness Record
  • Scripting Congress Mukt slogan
  • Bharat Mata has no place on August 13
  • Heikat-Leikat [13 Aug] #1 : Gallery
  • 13 August: Day to remember the heroes #1
  • Jallianwala: Manglen Onkhraba Lamjao
  • Lets us preserve indigenous languages
  • Hepatitis and pregnancy
  • On statement by Hoho & Naga Mother
  • Thangmeiband : Distasteful politics
  • Remembering patriots
  • UN Human Rights: Manipur Experience #5
  • Patriots' Day @ Pune : Gallery
  • Historical War fought by Manipur :: Articles
  • Police adapting to challenge by trafficking
  • Preventing TB is rooted in medical ethics
  • In the name of Love :: Poem
  • Expensive motor laws on the way
  • 13th August observed at Pune
  • Youth conclave with a difference
  • Alarming State of Students Life in Manipur
  • Babysana: Student - Aug 10 #1: Gallery
  • On Manipur Handlooms: A Clarion Call
  • Dzuko - A piece of heaven on earth #2
  • Of Colours and Sunset
  • A Beautiful Mind :: Poem
  • An apple a day keeps wrinkles at bay
  • From hostels to the school
  • Renaissance of Meitei Hinduism
  • Babysana: State bandh - Aug 9 #2: Gallery
  • Id-Ul-Azha - Id Festival :: Book
  • Would any journalist dare to stand up #2
  • Artic Haobam won 1st ArP championship
  • Invitation : RIST Talk - 40 @ MU
  • Condole demise of Phanjoubam Santosh
  • Making a New India & fate of Manipur
  • Babysana: State bandh - Aug 9 #1: Gallery
  • Some basics that many people ignored
  • House building of the Zeliangrong #2
  • Condolence : Photo Jounalist Ph Santosh
  • World Indigenous Peoples at Khumulwng
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Zo Forum celebrates Indigenous day
  • Lukanand Ksh wins at Mister North East
  • Post mortem reports fail to cut ice
  • Babysana: Student protest- Aug 8: Gallery
  • Counterpoints: Transgender Rights Bill #2
  • Manipur topped rankings in Breastfeeding
  • Cry of a Dying River - 88 :: Poem
  • World Indigenous Peoples Day
  • Criticizes scrapping of Article 370
  • Naga leader compromise Naga future
  • Free Children Heart Surgery Camp
  • Another bandh after 12 hours bandh over
  • Babysana death: What ails this society
  • Folklore of Hao communities #3
  • Programm @Sangai Fest #4 : Gallery
  • 'Tamenglong & Manipur' Amur Falcons #2
  • Haris Adhikari: Finest Whiskey in Writing
  • Manipur bag 6 medals at National Fencing
  • Agriculture and skill training
  • Resolutions on Naga Political Issue
  • Need for Imphal to reach out to hill CSO
  • ..should be justice for 1000s babysanas
  • Ibudhou Pakhangba Haraoba #2: Gallery
  • Mob Culture in Manipur
  • Dzuko - A piece of heaven on earth #1
  • Abrogation of Article 370
  • Issue of illegal mining of minor minerals
  • Annual Legal Awareness Program at Pune
  • Power, Works back to Biswajit
  • Redefining India
  • Gandhari (Dance Drama) #1 : Gallery
  • Would any journalist dare to stand up #1
  • The Truth Lie :: Poem
  • An opportunity to end AIDS & TB
  • Soft skills?? What are soft skills
  • Community - Road to healthy environment
  • Scrapping Articles 370, 35A
  • Matsyanyaya: Law of the Fish
  • Babysana: protest @Khuyathong : Gallery
  • Road from Haochong to Noney : Gallery
  • House building of the Zeliangrong #1
  • The World We Want
  • My Lil' Hamlet :: Poem
  • CM meet with CSO: Naga solution at hand?
  • Aliyah #2 (Film Scenes) :: eRang
  • Old Age Home Kumbi : Gallery
  • Counterpoints: Transgender Rights Bill #1
  • 'Tamenglong & Manipur' Amur Falcons #1
  • Vocationalisation of education in Manipur
  • Tourism Festivals & Tourists in Manipur
  • The World Turned Upside Down :: Poem
  • Think about the future
  • Nachom : used traditionally by Meitei
  • Kanglen Kang Chingba #2 : Gallery
  • Trend of private drug rehabilitation centre
  • Saffronites unhappy with power politics
  • IABP (Balloon Pump) saved life
  • Mega Mister & Miss North East
  • Anti-terror laws & victimization of innocent
  • The state today: blame the representative
  • Will remain true to Framework : IM
  • Laonii Fest @Phuba #1 : Gallery
  • No #endAIDS without #endTB
  • Cry of a Dying River - 87 :: Poem
  • Green your skills for green jobs
  • Ji Ingobi Chingtham: Bicycle tour
  • Will surrogacy law be really effective?
  • Vacancies at Hadron Techs, Imphal
  • 14 hours out of 24 hours
  • When people turn violent against HC order
  • Babysana's last rites performed: Gallery
  • August Calendar for Year 2019 :: Tools
  • Parade @ Manipur Police, Pangei: Gallery
  • War with Climate
  • Matric, UG & PG days of an aerobiologist
  • Invitation : Workshop on Mathematica
  • Job vacancies at Makok Technologies
  • Liver Function Tests
  • Arrested but not on murder charge
  • Threatened future and the way out
  • Downside of Khuga Multipurpose Project
  • Manipur State Drug Policy #2
  • Scope of career in legal field
  • Demising the Adolescent Miss :: Poem
  • Threats against Rights defender Sobita
  • Demands action against scribe-assailants
  • Back home after Delhi's suggestion
  • Babysana's death and its questions
  • Licypriya: Abdul Kalam Children Award 2019
  • Two positives attracting each other
  • Kakching World War-II Memorial Run
  • Assessment your Tax for ITR
  • Who is responsible ?
  • Rejoinder to branding me as Fortune Teller
  • From Dec 8, 2016 to July 29, 2019
  • Of faith and failed justice
  • Neli Chachea: Doll Maker : Gallery
  • Traditional Practices of the Kukis: Book
  • Ibudhou Thangjing Haraoba #4: Gallery
  • CMHT cards to journalists : Gallery
  • Twinkle Twinkle Scientists Star
  • Rohan Philem Reception @Pune : Gallery
  • General strike on Babysana : Gallery
  • Trekking to Dzukou Valley #2: Gallery
  • Nupi Pali @ Kang festival: Gallery
  • Sanamahi Cheng Hongba #2: Gallery
  • Weaving at Nongpok Sanjenbam : Gallery
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2019 #3: Gallery
  • Social service @ Moirang : Gallery
  • World Music Day @Yaiskul #3: Gallery
  • 3rd Singcha Wuyawon Festival 2019
  • seL tiHZakaNdta nuHZa_Iba :: Seireng
  • Cracks at Thong Nambonbi : Gallery
  • Yumnam Shamu : Natbhusan (Duhar)
  • The Great June Uprising #5: Gallery
  • Tolloi, Ukhrul :: 360 Panorama View
  • Manipuri Calendar for 2019 : Download
  • SPONSORED ADS