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Meet Ms. Roopal Mehta
Ms. Roopal MehtaIn Gujarati, there is a saying that goes like 'jyan jyan vase Gujarati, tyan sada kaal Gujarat', which means that no matter where the Gujarati people live, there lives a 'Gujarat' in their hearts, forever.
Meet Ms. Roopal Mehta, Indic Community Builder and the architect behind Gujarat Online, Sahaj Jyot and more. . . 
Please tell us more about yourself and your passion for Indic language community development.
RM: I am a Commerce graduate, from Ahmedabad, India, and I stay with my husband and two sons. My family’s main business is in textiles. By profession, I am developing websites, and translating books and websites from English to Gujarati. Apart from this, I offer my voluntary services to several organizations. I am more a hobbyist, basically self-taught and I always have a thirst for learning new things in life. From the days of my childhood, I have loved reading and I have always wanted to receive books as gifts. As a person, I try and offer my help, whenever it is possible. I guess this explains my passion!
Your educational background, is in the field of Commerce, majoring into accountancy. It is interesting to know that your career involves a lot of Computing and Software Development. How did this interest come about?
RM: After my Commerce Graduation, I started working in accounts section of my family-run business. In 1982-83, a computer (ZX-Spectrum) was brought in and I found it fascinating that it would help us in the accounts section. But someone joked and taunted that these machines are for men and not for women (women, hardly were using computers then). I took it as a challenge and enrolled myself in a short course for learning programming in Basic. I got so interested that I learnt Cobol as well.
Soon after the course, I was offered a job in a private software development firm, for writing programs in Cobol for corporate houses, training programmers, and later on as project co-ordinator. Thanks to the person who joked, because that was the turning point in my career!
Tell us more about your firms 'Software Solutions' and 'CyberScope Connections'. Were they into Indic computing? Were the information about culture, music disseminated in the local language
RM: In 1988-89, my presence was needed at home (due to small kids), so I set up an office at home and started taking free-lance projects from home. At ‘Software Solutions’, using Clipper as the programming language, I used to develop custom-made software –accounting, sales, inventory modules. This had nothing to do with Indic computing, but in my interaction with Gujarati speaking trader community, I always wished I could offer something more.
With 'CyberScope Connections', my wish came true. I started working on the portal Gujarat Online in 1996-97, initially in English, and later on adding Gujarati fonts, which gave me the freedom to add culture, music, literature, the regional stuff to the content.
What was the motive behind setting up LIVE WIRE! BBS? Do throw some light on your work there.
RM: Live Wire! BBS (http://lwbbs.net/), headquartered in Bombay, was started by Suchit Nanda in 1989, and it was successfully run with nodes in Calcutta, Pune, Madras, Hyderabad, and Vapi. Due to a common background of Microcomputer Users’ Club (MUC), my initial motive was to set up the Ahmedabad node for communication between the members of MUC, but even besides that, the idea of such a communication tool was exciting enough.
The Ahmedabad node was set up in 1994, which was the first (and only) BBS in Ahmedabad and I served as SysOp (system operator) to run the local node. Using dial-up modems members would log in to a local network, write e-mails, download open source & shareware software, chat, play on-line games or participate in the message forums. We had public message forums like BharatNet (connecting BBSes of India), Asianet, IndiaNet, and FidoNet (connecting BBSes across the globe), for topics ranging from computers, programming, medicine, work & help, to general chitchat and friendship. There was an exchange of expertise, culture, music, literature, business –it was more like a close community. Live Wire! BBS had 7000 members, with Ahmedabad node having more than 150.
What were the projects you undertook for the Website Development in 1998?
RM: In 1998? Well the major work that was done, was for Gujarat Online, (http://gujaratonline.com/) and the initial projects taken, were for expanding the content of Gujarat Online, upon requests and comments by the web viewers. The other major work done in 1998 was for the humor & poetry portal, Jokes’n’Stuff (http://jokesnstuff.net/). Gradually, I started developing websites for individuals, local traders, pharmaceutical firms, religious organizations, hobbyists and NGOs.
What do you think is the relevance of regional language computing and translation today?
RM: Today we are at a point where we have to have regional language computing and translations. Majority of people who are using their computers today, know English well and probably this may not matter to them. But, if we widen this view, we will have to think about those people who will be using computers in their own language. Without regional language computing, this barrier will not break. Secondly, a large portion of our data (such as Governmental) is in regional language and if modern technology is to be used, we can’t do without regional language computing, translations, etc. Thirdly and I’d say most importantly, I feel this is perhaps the only way to keep our regional language alive for generations to come.
How has the Gujarati community been able to benefit from the portal Gujarat Online?
RM: In Gujarati, there is a saying that goes like ‘jyan jyan vase Gujarati, tyan sada kaal Gujarat’, which means that no matter where the Gujarati people live, there lives a ‘Gujarat’ in their hearts, forever. In other words, the Gujarati community is an industrial community and you will find Gujaratis all over the world, but, even if they stay away in far away lands, they never forget their land and people. So I feel there is a need of connectivity of these hearts. Gujarat Online is a platform for this connectivity. I try to do my best to create such a platform, by providing information, local news, business opportunities, literature, music, interaction, etc.
Tell us more about your work as a team member of the Gujarati translation team at Shri Rama Chandra Mission?
RM: Shri Ram Chandra Mission (http://srcm.org/) is a spiritual organization, where we meditate under the guidance of our (Guruji) Master, Pujya Chariji. The Mission’s literature is mainly our Masters’ teachings, writings and speeches, which is mostly in English.
Teams are formed to translate it in Gujarati (as also other native languages), for readers to have better understanding. The team members translate the books, exchange the translation for review and correction among themselves, and then finalize. In between the team members, the work role changes from time to time, depending on the required work, availability of time, etc. Generally we translate two to three Gujarati books per year. Books are published by Shri Ram Chandra Mission, Chennai.
Your work for KIDLINK sounds very novel and interesting. Tell us more about it and it's participation in the earthquake relief work.
RM: KIDLINK (www.kidlink.org) is like an open global school over the Internet, the idea is to help the kids (age 4 to 18) mature and learn life-skills. Individual kids and students as part of classes log in to participate, express themselves, and collaborate in on-going projects and arts. Since the start in 1990, today children from 165 countries have enrolled.
My work in a relief camp during Gujarat earthquake in 2001, was a part of disaster project of Kidlink. We tried to connect the earthquake-hit kids (via Internet) with the kids from rest of the world, exchanging friendship, feelings and arts, which helped them, in some way, to feel the warmth, security and friendship from the kids of the rest of the world. It was important to bring out their emotions and help them move on with the life. In the longer term, we're trying to build on the disaster project experience and contributions to enhance our offerings to children with this type of difficult problems. Kidlink offers web pages for 12 languages, including Gujarati, for Gujarati kids.
Spirituality is perceived by many, especially the youth, as a very dry topic. As the Editor of the magazine Sahaj Jyot, what do you plan to do in order to make it more interesting to such people and make them realize of it's relevence?
RM: Well as a matter of fact, spirituality is a way of life itself. It is not different or difficult from material life, but as my Master says, one needs to have a ‘balanced’ life. We practice Sahaj Marg (meaning the Natural Way) and Sahaj Jyot is our Gujarati spiritual quarterly. Today’s youth is very adaptive as far as ideas, systems and learning is concerned. In fact I see a large number of youth in Shri Ram Chandra Mission today. We have released Sahaj Jyot in booklet as well as the e-mail version (using Unicode), to reach out to the young, and not-so-young people, and the current circulation is 950.
Is your interest in learning new languages an interest or is it with a motive of learning them in order to contribute more to language development?
RM: My interest in learning a language is a pure hobby. As any Indian, one learns 4 languages –English, Hindi, Sanskrit and mother-tongue (Gujarati). Apart from it, I took French lessons, which was just because I liked the language. I would like to learn Bengali in future, but no, there is no specific motive to learn any language. I would love to contribute to the language development, if I can. And as far as the different computer programming languages are concerned, yes, I did learn them with a motive!
Do give us an insight into your views about the BhashaIndia portal.
RM: Since the day I came upon the BhashaIndia portal, I have been glued to it! Earlier, I was always disappointed that no major work is done on the Net, in Indian languages. If language is not a barrier, one can achieve a lot.
In early days, when a man wanted to communicate, his speech or writings were local to his kind, to his own group. When printing & press was invented, the first revolution came, because his words reached out to many. Another revolution came with Internet, as his words spread even more –except for the language barrier. Now with BhashaIndia, that barrier is also broken. I would say BhashaIndia is not a portal, it is a revolution of its kind, and I congratulate all involved for taking steps in this direction.
How do you plan to enhance the Gujarati community online on BhahshaIndia and how has the progress been?
RM: In the computing world, I have seen raised eyebrows saying ‘Why Gujarati?’ and I have always told them, ‘Why not?’ I do not deny the importance of English in today’s world, but I would hate to see any language dying. A mother-tongue is always linked with the heart.
Over BhashaIndia, Gujarati community can come together to promote their own language and keep alive this beautiful language in a best way. With Unicode, I am sure that this will be an easy thing. So far, apart from the language development help, the message forums such as ‘aapni bhasha, apnu gaurav’ (our language, our pride) are activated for Gujarati language, we are also trying to work on Gujarati computing glossary, and participation is on increase. I am sure this will grow in all directions!

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