According to Inayat Ullah Faizi, a Pakistani historian and researcher, the Chitral valley is home to 14 local languages, the most popular being Khowar. So it hardly comes as a surprise that 47-year-old Rehmat Aziz Khan, a Chitrali PhD student thought of designing a software that allows a computer keyboard to type 40 different local languages of Pakistan.
Khan has a Master’s degree in library science, is currently enrolled in PhD in Law at the University of Islamabad, and holds a one-year diploma in computer software and programming languages. “The application is compatible with Microsoft Word, Notepad and WordPad, and there is no need to download any specific software to use the Khowar Keyboard.”
Khan is a poet, linguist and researcher known not only in Chitral district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) but also in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) for his contribution to the local languages. Khowar, his mother tongue is spoken and understood by the local community of Chitral and others in GB.
A Chitrali PhD student develops a unique keyboard software for local languages
He would often feel bad that his mother tongue could not be composed on the computer, and he had always wanted to develop a software compatible with the windows operating system that had the capability to compose Khowar and other local languages.
“I wanted to write poetry, prose and the history of my hometown in Khowar and my dream has come true. Now, anyone can easily compose literary material, poetry, prose, dramas, novels and criticism in several languages on the computer,” he says.
Preoccupied with developing his software, Khan could not give much time to day-to-day tasks. “All my time and energy went into developing the keyboard,” he says. “The Khowar keyboard software that I developed in 2014 can be used to type Shina, Balti, Pashto, Kohistani, Damairi, Gojari, Dari, Ormuri, Yalolah, Hindko, Potohari, Torwali as well,” Khan explains. “The software has been uploaded on the website (www.branah.com) and one can use it with any ordinary keyboard. If the software is bookmarked as a favourite in any browser, it can be used without connecting to the net,” he adds.
Khan worked daily for two to three hours to develop the latest version of the keyboard. In the current version, one can write 40 various local languages of Pakistan while the upgraded version, on which he is working will have the capacity to compose all 69 local languages of the country.
Earlier, Khan had designed a keyboard just for Khowar. It took him almost two years to develop the keyboard software in the Java programming language and Keyman Developer, a tool for developing keyboard layouts.
“Since the Khowar language has some special characters and alphabets that other typing softwares, including Inpage [Urdu typing software] cannot support, it could only be done by developing a unique keyboard software for Khowar,” he explains.
Khan has won numerous awards during his career including the Shandoor Award, the Chitral Human Development Award, the Pride of the Nation Award and the Dr A.Q. Khan Award for creating the specialised software.
Khan says that while developing the software he faced many hardships. Since he was not computer literate he had to learn computer programming languages and other relevant softwares used in keyboard development. He said that power outage and time shortage was also a big issue but he never gave up and finally achieved success in his project.
“First I developed the software for desktop and later I develop android apps for cell phones. With a single click a person can install the app on a mobile phone and use it like a desktop computer,” he explains. He also says that regular work on the computer has affected his eyesight.
Full Time Service
Along with establishing departments within Allama Iqbal Open University and Karachi’s Urdu University, Khan has initiated courses in the Khowar language from first to 12th grade in schools in the Chitral district.
Khan’s software enables people to type research work in the above mentioned institutions. With the help of his keyboard software, Khan has also written more than a hundred scholarly articles, 50 book reviews, and 1,400 editorials and columns for different Pakistani newspapers.
“I have started to translate the Holy Quran in Khowar on the computer,” says Khan. “Those who cannot read Pashto and Urdu will be able to study translations of the Quran in the Chitrali language. People of other regions can use the keyboard to translate the Holy Quran and other books in their local languages as well.”
Along with working on his PhD thesis, Khan has recently written a book, Muhammad, about the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and then composed it in Khowar with the help of his keyboard software.
As his software is compatible with windows 8.1 and higher versions of the Microsoft operating system, Khan plans to develop it further and upload the latest version on his website. His software can be accessed at www.branah.com/khowar. “The new version of the software will extend its capacity to type out about 69 languages that are spoken in various parts of Pakistan. The next step would be to include all the languages spoken in the world,” says Khan.
He would like the provincial government of KP and the federal government to acknowledge his work and provide financial and technological support to him for carrying out futher development on the software.
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 18th, 2018