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Tamil (Esoteric ;-)


Finally, the things I like to do when I am not pounding away at the keyboard.


According to my parents, I define the term voracious reader. I wouldn't quite go that far, but I've read all my life and enjoyed it. I pretty much read indiscrimately - it takes a lot to bore me enough to give up reading a book. My reading is mainly fiction - I very rarely read non-fiction except for the stuff I have to read for my work. A list of all the authors I've ever read would be way too long, and I don't want to make any arbitrary decisions on favourite authors and the like. So this is basically a collection of links to "only on the web" resources for avid readers.


I started playing chess only after coming to UCSC - as part of an AI course which Bob Levinson taught. I'm still one of the weakest players in the college chess club though, and I get regularly smothered in every game I play. Sigh. What was that saying again - "Try and try..."

Athletics (or in Amerispeak, Track)

I used to run the sprints (100, 200, 400 and 400 hurdles) when I was in school and college. I trained for almost 7 years, but didn't actually achieve all that much. I finally won a state medal in the 400 hurdles, and promptly quit ;-) Seriously, I strained a muscle then, and took some time off to recover, and just didn't reach the same level of training after that. If you want to see what I looked like at that time, look at my archive of days past.

Now, of course, I'm in Northern Cal, and it's bitterly cold compared to Bombay, and so I do practically nothing. Maybe when I get more used to the weather...


This is my newest hobby - finding Tamil software. Tamil is a language from the south of India (Tamil Nadu) to be precise, and is also one of the official languages of Sri Lanka, Singapore, and (I think) Malaysia. As a sample, here's how you would write my name Shankari Kalyanaraman.

It is also my mother tongue, and I learnt it when I was a little kid. Of course, since then, my primary mode of communication has been English and though my spoken Tamil is reasonable, my written Tamil is, to put it mildly, atrocious.

For the past year, since I have been in an alien land, I have begun to have a faint, nostalgic reawakening of interest in Tamil. Of course, since I am a Computer Scientist, this means that I have to find a method of communicating with my parents via TAMIL email.

This has lead to

  • My owning possibly the largest privately held collection of Tamil fonts in the entire world. The second largest collection must be with my parents - I make them install all the fonts I have so that they can read the junk I send.
  • My developing the UNIX version of a cool Windows-based transliteration program from UPenn. This can actually be run off the web too. This is generally a cute little site if you want to learn Tamil. It has links to movie clips and plays and short stories and other such goodies.
  • My configuring Netscape to work in harmony with my normal mail reader so that I can read my Tamil mail in netscape and the rest of my mail in Pine. Netscape is generally a hog and eats up all mail from the mail spool. I set it up so that it would use the IMAP server here instead, and now, it leaves mail in the spool unless it's explicitly deleted.
  • My spending time evaluating various keyboards and methods of entering Tamil. The murasu keyboard is the best I have seen so far. The upenn transliteration software is next best. The IRDU keyboard sucks.
  • The search has ended. The main problem in communication using Tamil so far was that different fonts used different encoding schemes making communication between different software systems difficult if not impossible. The folks at have come up with a standard encoding, TSCII, which performs much the same function as ASCII does - it allows the font and the encoding to be orthogonal to each other. They also supply a bunch of software which supports TSCII, for Unix users, I would recommend Akaram.
Of course, none of these has actually improved my Tamil, with the result that my writing skills are still at the five-year-old level. Without transliteration software I can take upto 30 minutes to compose a 3 sentence mail, and even if I use transliteration, my language skills are limited to the equivalent of "Look Jane, there's Spot". Now if only there were software which would perform auto-hypnosis... If your Tamil is actually worse than mine (if such a thing is possible), you might want to check out one of the numerous Tamil tutorials.
  1. A nice and easy introduction to written Tamil. It also introduces words along with the alphabet, which I think is A Good Thing. I thought this was geared towards people who are moderately familiar with Indian culture already, but YMMV. Of course, you could also argue that anyone who goes to the hassle of learning Tamil is pretty much interested in Indian culture anyway ;-) help