Kerning feature for Malayalam fonts

At SMC, we’ve been continuously working on improving the fonts for Malayalam – by updating to newer opentype standard (mlm2), adding new glyphs, supporting new Unicode points, fixing shaping issues, reducing complexity and the compiled font size, involving new contributors etc.

Recently, out of scratching my own itch, I decided that it is high time to fix the annoyance that combination of Virama(U+D04D ് ) with quote marks (‘ ” ‘ ’ “ ” etc) used to overlap into an ugly amalgam in all our fonts. Usually Virama(് ) connects/combines two consonants which makes all 3 into a new glyph – for example സ+്+ന is shaped into a new glyph സ്ന (Note that you need a traditional orthography font installed to see the distinction in this example. Many of them are available here) . The root of the problem is that sometimes when Virama(് ) appears individually in a word such as “സ്വപ്‌‌നം” it connects two consonants പ and ന, it is positioned above the x height of most glyphs and it shall not have much left and right bearing to avoid ugly spacing between the consonants പ and ന.  Because of small side bearings, in fact of the negative right bearing (് protrudes beyond the right bearing) when a quote mark follows it, quote mark gets a little juxtaposed into Virama glyph and renders rather bad. The issue is quite prominent when you professionally typeset a book or article in Malayalam using XeTeX or SILE.

Fontforge’s tools made it easy to write opentype lookup rules for horizontal pair kerning to allow more space between Virama(് ) and quote marks. You can see the before and after effect of the change with Rachana font in the screenshot.


Update 26/03/2016: Many applications already support the kerning feature out of the box, including Firefox, SILE and VLC (3.0.0-git for subtitles) that I have tested, but many still need support, for instance LibreOffice, Kwrite etc. Here is a screenshot of VLC (3.0.0-git) taking kerning rules into account while displaying Malayalam subtitle.


Other fonts like AnjaliOldLipi, Meera and Chilanka also got this feature and those will be available with the new release in the pipeline. I have plans to expand this further to use with post-base vowels of വ(്വ) and യ(്യ) with abundant stacked glyphs that Malayalam has.

SMC mentoring for GSoC 2014 too

Swathanthra Malayalam Computing is a free software collective engaged in language computing, development, localization, standardization and popularization of various Free and Open Source Softwares in Malayalam language. SMC developers have contributed to various Indian language computing efforts including fonts, spell checkers, hyphenation patterns (used by TeX, Libreoffice, Firefox), input methods etc. Last year, SMC was selected as a mentor for Google Summer of Code program and we successfully mentored 3 student projects – a web application to store and process bibliography data of books with i8n support, port SILPA into Flask application and restructure into standalone modules and Automated Shaping&Rendering testing, primarily for HarfBuzz.

Together with Santhosh, I have mentored the Automated Shaping&Rendering testing framework which we use to test Malayalam font changes against HarfBuzz. It can also be used to test Uniscribe shaping engine if compiled in Windows, or used against HarfBuzz with Uniscribe backend.

SMC is selected as an organization to mentor for GSoC again this year. If you are a student who wants to work on interesting problems, look at our project ideas. One of the problems I am particularly interested and to mentor is adding Indic shaping support to ConTeXt. Apart from the listed ideas, you can propose other ideas as well. Read the FAQ, you can reach us by mailing list or via IRC #smc-project on

smc-fonts (Meera) updated

Meera is the default font for Malayalam in Fedora. Lately, a few bugs causing wrong rendering of some complex conjuncts were identified and reported – 1, 2.  There was another bug reported in RedHat bugzilla. As Unicode 5.1 is not supported by smc-fonts, glyph Ⓡ was being displayed for Atomic Chillu letters. To make the font Unicode complying, it was suggested to remove this.

Yesterday a new release of Meera fixing all these bugs was made available by Suresh, and I’ve uploaded a new upstream source file at Savannah repository. Then the RPMs were rebuilt for rawhide, which can be found here.

And the ChangeLog reads:

* The glyphs(an R inside a circle) at unallocated Unicode code points are removed.
* Wrong glyph for 'th1s1r3u1' (ത്സ്രു) fixed.
* Breaking up of conjunct 'l3k1k1' (ല്ക്ക) fixed.
* Shaping issues for 'r3cil'+'l3l3' (ര്‍ല്ല) context fixed.

Thanks to Suresh, Ani Peter, Santhosh Thottingal and Pravin Satpute !

Kuttans – another frontend for Payyans

Few months ago I released Chathans, a frontend to the Payyans ASCII <=> Unicode converter. Few weeks later, Santhosh forwarded a mail from Rahul with another neat implementation of a frontend completely written in Qt4. He named it Kuttans as a pun on Qt+Payyans.

I liked the User Interface at the first look. But it was using “system()” call to interact with Payyans. So we decided to reimplement it in PyQt4. Based on the UI designed in Qt Creator, the python ui class is generated with pyuic4; and the resources (icons…) with pyrcc4 (both from the PyQt4-devel) package.

Features include:

  • Support for Creating, Displaying, Editing and Saving ASCII/Unicode files
  • Support for all available fonts. Useful in determining the ASCII font if the font is not known for original ASCII document
  • All the standard Cut/Copy/Paste/Undo/Redo functionalities


RPM package and source tar ball can be obtained from Savannah repository. Source can be browsed in Savannah git repo.

Future improvements:

  • Support for displaying PDF files (using python bindings for poppler-qt4)
  • .deb package for Debian/Ubuntu


A few months ago, one fine morning I logged into #smc-project IRC channel. An unusual number of members were present on that day, and we were completing the process of getting aspell-ml into Fedora. Meanwhile, Santhosh and Nishan were in the process of creating an ASCII-to-Unicode converter. The discussions and talks went light, and we went into a myriad of topics. Somehow, the discussion turned into Ani Peter’s “blog inauguration“, and then Santhosh pointed out at my Malayalam blog. That prompted him to ask if I am a fan of V.K.N. I said yes, and he replied the feeling is mutual. But a few guys in the list didn’t know who “Payyan” is, or “Chathans” is.

Payyans and Chathans are arguably the most famous characters by this exceptional genius V.K.N.

Few days later, Santhosh and Nishan released the ASCII-to-Unicode converter, and they named the software as “Payyans” !

Couple of weeks after, I was trying to learn GTK+ programming, and Glade. As an experiment, I wrote a small GUI for Payyans in GTK, which resulted in a patch to Payyans and a tiny GTK+ application, which I duly named as “Chathans”.

A few months withered away, I learned a little PyGTK programming, and I rewrote Chathans in PyGTK. Payyans was also improved in a substantial way, gaining internal APIs, so that services of Payyans can be used directly inside Python applications, feature for bidirectional conversion et al. I have added the ability for translation to Chathans later.

So, we have released Chathans, documented the steps to obtain, install and use in SMC wiki.


As always – comments, bug reports and patches are welcome.

English-Malayalam Dictionary beta release

As mentioned earlier, we are ready with the beta release of English-Malayalam dictionary in DICT format. The RPM, DEB and source packages can be found here in Savannah repository. The steps for installing, configuring and using are documented in SMC Wiki.

The next step is Malayalam-English and English-Malayalam dictionaries, though their plausibility greatly depends on the favourability of CDAC’s reply who owns the required data. We are expecting and hoping that they will make the data available under a free software compatible license.

English-Malayalam Dict [RFC2229]

When Santhosh Thottingal sent out the task to create English-Malayalam/Malayalam-English dictionary conforming to Dict Protocol, I didn’t care much. Just took a look and left it there. But later when he pinged and urged me to take it up – providing many required resources – I just thought I’ll take a look at it. And thus started scratching another itch.

The Govt of Kerala is well known for its support for Free/Open Source Software. And they’ve been doing a pretty good job. But I was surprised when I got the link to an English-Malayalam Dictionary with a Python frontend. And the best part is this – it is GPL’ed.

And I set out to convert the data found inside to suite to the Dict Protocol [RFC2229]. An ugly shell script turned out to be a nice one after 3 days of carving and craving.

This is how it is done:

  1. Format the input file in the format :  {headword\n\tdefinitions}.
  2. Use dictfmt to convert to Dict format : dictfmt -f –utf8 -s Dict-English-Malayalam -u dict-en-ml < <input_file> && dictzip dict-en-ml.dict
  3. This will create two files & dict-en-ml.index.
  4. Install “dictd“.
  5. Create folder “/usr/share/dictd” if it doesn’t exist.
  6. Copy and dict-en-ml.index to “/usr/share/dictd
  7. Create file “/etc/dict.conf” and edit it. Put “server  localhost” and save.
  8. Create file “/etc/dictd.conf” and edit. Put :      “database Eng-Mal  {data “/usr/share/dictd/” \n\t index “/usr/share/dictd/dict-en-ml.index”}
  9. Start the dictd service by “/etc/rc.d/init.d/dictd start
  10. Use your favourite dictionary frontend and lookup!

And, here’s a preview as well:


There’s still some more work to do, viz. incorporating the grammatical components (like Noun, Verb etc).

We, at Swathanthra Malayalam Computing hope to release it soon, and even an RPM package as proposed by Sankharshan Mukhopadyay.

Stay tuned.