Archive for August 30th, 2009

August 30, 2009

modI script and mAravADI accounting

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

During our short sojourn to vraja this janmAShTamI last weekend, our companion was a retired and elderly mAravADI businessman from utkala country, from whom we got to learn about many subjects, besides being fed the delights of the mAravADI kitchen of his hosts, option of pardoning ourselves from which was denied.

Our companion was at one point nostalgically relating the things of gone-by yesteryears, and was narrating the reminiscences of those days when he was a boy being initiated in his father’s business (of metals and minerals).

One of those things that he said he still missed sorely, was the tradition of book keeping in modI script.  While submitting that none competes with devanAgarI in perfectness, completeness and aesthetics of writing, he demonstrated how modI was an improvised shorthand that afforded more advantages for an accountant than nAgarI character set.  It allowed dual benefits: a quicker entry of journals, and an inbuilt encoder.

First, the script was designed in a way that it did not demand lifting of the pen from the ledger book, except for dipping it in the ink pot, which in itself was a huge advantage for the accountants who had to process a large amount of transactions during an average day.

This was done by making the standard nAgarI characters cursive where possible, and replacing those characters altogether which either had ‘corners’ demanding deceleration of the nib, or had features which demanded either the lifting of the pen, or repeating a line over itself, such as ‘ष’.

Anyways, the modI script then did away with the necessity of the horizontal bar, that integral datum of nAgarI which otherwise wonderfully enforces a clear and aesthetic alignment of the character-string, but which required the pen to move back and forth, slowing down an accounting clerk!

Finally, the most important deviation: the mAravADI shorthand eliminated all the mAtrA-s from the table, meaning that, for example, all the members of ka-kA–ki-kI-ku-kU etc group were only written as ‘ka’. In this aspect, mAravADI shorthand deviated even from the southern modI tradition of maharaTTI-s since they still keep the mAtrA-s.

This elimination of mAtrA-s while complicated the matter for a layman, for a trained accountant it not only accelerated journal writing, but also afforded a wonderful system of encoding information.  Only someone who knew the context of a particular transaction and was familiar with the agreed parlance and terminology of that business, would be able to understand the content of that journal entry, and with a little practice it was a wonderful way of encoding financial data!


(above is the maharaTTI variety of modI, not mAravADI. Thanks to this blog )

To demonstrate his point he narrated a funny anecdote from those days when he was then undergoing apprenticeship under the dIvAna of a branch of his father’s business. The days were when the hindU nation had moved on from the tyranny of the mlechcHa to the tyranny of the native socialists, and the corruption was already rampant.  Long story short, once this dIvAna had to affect a payment of some trivial sum for chai-pAnI to the income tax officials, simply to avoid the wastage of time in full scan audit.  The payment was also carefully entered in the general ledger, and the entry was made with journal description reading as “i-na-ka-ma-Ta-ka-sa-va-la-ka-da-la-va-ya”.  With intended mAtrA-s added, this meant “income tax vAlo ko dilavAyA” (‘made a payment to income tax fellows’).  But it seems income tax department did still have the books to be submitted for an audit, and as the fate would have it, the auditors asked dIvAnajI to explain this entry.

At this point our fellow traveler burst into a round of laughter before he managed to complete the narrative.

dIvAnajI did not lose much time in employing to his advantage the intuitive flexibility of modI script and interpreted the journal description as follows. “inakI mA (ne) Taxi vAlo ko dilavAyA”, meaning “His mom (referring to our companion’s mother) had us make payments for Taxi services”.

Then with twinkles in his eyes, he said that now in the days of digitized accounting, when all business was running on ERPs, he was manually passing the first journal of the new open ledger every year only in modI script on the day of lakShamIpUjana, to keep intact the memory of the tradition.

He then narrated another funny anecdote of days when his father had instructed his accountants to get trained in English language, and the initial outcome was no less funny.  He was once sent to Mumbai by his father for some business, for the first time alone on such a journey.  As was done those days, upon reaching there he sent a telegram for back home in churU, in imperfect English: “Reached Bombay stop staying with safely stop”, of course a literal translation from the common hindI phrase of its meaning.  Upon receiving the telegram, dIvAnajI promptly informed his father that kuMvara sahib had reached Bombay. But alarmed by the last half of the telegram, he quickly added his concern that it was probably time they looked for matrimonial alliance for the young fellow, since it seemed he now took interest in female company and had taken with him some lass with a fashionable name like ‘shephAlI’, likely an Anglo-Indian rUpajIvI!

Another hilarious outburst of laughter.

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