Hari Govind Govil (1899-1956)

- March 1, 2021

Illustration: Arghadeep Biswas Hari Govind Govil might not be a familiar name to most, but unbeknownst to us, his work has been witnessed by almost every Indian. Govil is the developer of the typeface for the Devanagari script, also dubbed as the “Hindu Font”, which can be used to type many vernacular languages such as Sanskrit, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Bihari, Rajasthani, Nepali as well as Hindi. The Constitution, in 1950, stated that the Hindi language in Devanagari script is the official language of the Union of India. Govil’s invention continues to be of extreme importance in various fields such as education, literature, journalism and bureaucracy, but the story behind this invention is one of chance! Born as one of seven children in an impoverished family in Bikaner, Hari Govind Govil’s childhood was difficult. His mother had to pawn her jewellery to secure the children’s elementary education. Even as a young boy, Govil was ambitious and driven. When he secured a scholarship to Banaras Hindu University, he found himself disillusioned with the way he was being taught. Govil believed that the Indian education system was rigid and unimaginative, and hence, unfit for him. As the final examination for his bachelor’s degree approached, Govil was sure that he would not pass. This strong dislike for the Indian way of education did not dissuade Govil’s pursuit of knowledge. He decided that he should move to America, as their system was more flexible and suited his needs. He did not have enough resources to fund his travel, so he approached many merchants, posing to be a “Carrier of India’s culture” to the western world. Somehow, his pitch worked, and the merchants gave Govil a thousan...

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