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Posted at: Aug 9, 2015, 1:02 AM; last updated: Aug 6, 2015, 8:49 PM (IST)

Forging identity through fonts

This designer’s pioneering font designs for Nepali alphabets are not only getting popular in Nepal but in India too

Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

I am walking through a warren of timeworn houses in Kathmandu’s oldest neighbourhood, Asan. Post the April earthquake, life is picking up slowly but the man walking alongside me is feverishly pursuing his mission. Ananda Maharjan is keeping both history and the future going. To him goes the credit of giving a much-needed spin to font designing in Nepali language. So, when he takes me to a store stocking T-shirts, I am quite puzzled.

It's a store in Asan that stocks T-shirts with the brand BauchaOMaicha. What makes these tees different from the regular ‘I love Nepal’ ones is that these use Ananda’s unique fonts on it. Sure, one wall of the tiny shop has typical tees with ‘Nepal’ woven on them in a variety of colours — meant for tourists who spill out to Asan from neighbouring Thamel. But it’s on the other three walls where Anand’s ‘art’ is reflected.

“Baucha and Maicha are two Newari characters, meaning boy and girl, created by graphic artist Bigyan Prajapati. The words and their fonts on the tees are by me,” says Anand. With relish, he explains the meaning of a line from a T-shirt which he borrowed from a verse by Nepali maha kavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota. The killer quake, too, gets attention. The iconic Kathmandu tower Dharuhera, which was flattened, is sketched on tees with the words ‘Humro sampada, humro pahichan. Haami Nepali’.

But designing fonts for T-shirts is just a small part of Ananda’s work. In fact, it has sprung from his major work — designing over 30 font styles for Nepali alphabets since 2001. A work considered pioneering in the field. “I started as a graphic designer with a studio in Kathmandu which basically designed booklets for local and international NGOs. The matter would be provided to us in English which we would translate into Nepali. As a creative person, it used to bug me a lot that while there were so many type options in English, there were so few in Nepali,” he says. A fine arts graduate from Nepal’s Lalit Kala, Ananda came up with his first type, Ananda 1HV&MD, which was largely a replica of an English style. Thereafter, he began playing with Hindi fonts which had more variety than Nepali. “Though the types were based on Devnagiri, since they were meant for Hindi, it was not very easy for me to use them in Nepali,” he points out.

More than a decade has passed since and Ananda, over the years, has managed to create a wide variety of font designs meant particularly for Nepali language. His work has got noticed not only in Nepal but in India too. “I have uploaded my fonts on the internet; these can be used for free. Though graphic artists working on Nepali language from India write to me seeking permission to use them, people in Nepal don’t, they just use them,” he says with a laugh. Glancing through Ananda’s font catalogue you may think of the designs as easy but the artist says it’s not as simple as it looks. He first doodles his idea on checkbox grids drawn on a paper which he transports into the computer as a glyph in vector format. He then codes the vector designs into the keyboard. “I use Adobe Illustrator for it, then clean it up in Photoshop and trace it to Fontlab Studio which assigns each font to individual keys,” he explains.

Still, with not much done to Nepali fonts before him, Ananda’s work is much feted. Even in Nepal’s film industry. After designing the poster for the film Chhadke in 2013, he got to do more than 30 others. “There is not much money in it, I work for a Netherlands-based design company to run my kitchen but I am glad that there is a new platform for Nepali type artists to work on."

Festivals are a good time for him. “I also design greetings for mobile apps for festivals Dashayan, also for birthdays and wedding anniversaries,” he says.

While walking back from Asan, he points to an advertisement in English by a top Nepali telecom company, and says “Some have big budgets for advertisements but they are yet to think of using Nepali fonts in them.” But lack of money and attention has not dampened Ananda’s zeal. Next up is designing an illustrated teaching aid for Newari language.

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