Teaching the Modi script, one letter at a time

Updated: May 19, 2019, 08:03 IST | Nasrin Modak Siddiqi

A 24-year-old from Nashik is making the ancient Marathi cursive script accessible through WhatsApp

Teaching the Modi script, one letter at a time
You can reach Sojwal Sali on 8623914461. The basic course starts at Rs 799

When Nashik-based archaeologist Sojwal Sali was a little boy, he used to watch his grandfather write in Marathi but in a script that was different from what was taught at school. He was particularly intrigued by his grandfather's unusual signature. The script, he soon learnt, was called Modi, believed to have been introduced in 1260 AD in the Yadava Dynasty by the then Prime Minister Hemadri (Hemadpant).

Although at the time, Sali did not bother to learn it, despite his grandfather's insistence, years later he was to rediscover its charm.

Sojwal Sali

Making it relevant

At 24, Sali is a Government of Maharashtra certified Modi expert. He teaches the script to students on WhatsApp and has taught more than 1,500 students in the last three years. The current batch has 30 students, of which one is from Muscat. "Most students live in different cities and the working class don't have the luxury of time to attend physical classes.

Mobile is a great medium to teach and the learning is personalized too. Besides interest in history or for research and PhD purpose, some people want to learn Modi because it was the language of their ancestors. For some, all property-related documents from before 1960 are in the Modi script, so it helps to know the script to review the documents," explains Sali. The basic two-month course, which costs Rs 799, includes learning barakhadi (letters), jodakshar (joining words), and days of the week according to the Marathi calandar. The syllabus is set, so if a student misses it, they can approach him again. The advanced level, for Rs 1,500, is more exhaustive and requires dedicated practice.

The official script

Sali has been on the Modi trail since March 2015, primarily due to his interest in history. The script, he says, was used for all forms of official communication and documentation from the 13th century till 1960 - when it was discontinued and replaced with Balbodh style of Devnagri to bring in uniformity. "When formal school education started in India, it was taught from class IV onwards. It was prevalent during the times of Shahaji, Shivaji, Sambhaji Maharaj and the Peshwas. Even the British learnt it and used it as the official script of documentation. In fact, of the 16 government archive centers in India, the one in Pune itself has over five lakh documents in Modi."

Postcards from another time

Having acquired the knowledge, he was intent on spreading it. The course, he tells us, is good enough to make one read and write simple letters. "If we don't learn the script - all history will be lost. I want millennials to learn it and pass it down - that's the only way to keep it alive for future generations.

As a proactive step, I now send birthday and congratulatory messages to friends and family with a handwritten note in Modi on a postcard. This way, both script and the postcard are revived. Also, Modi on a postcard is reminiscent of simpler days when only the local postman could read the script, and the villagers who didn't know to read or write would request them to read out the letters written to them," Sali says.

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