Help Kids Re-Connect with India

C-24 Oct 17, 2014/ Diwali Special - INDIA JOURNAL

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In this month of festivities, Shoonya, an edutainment company Based in Santa Barbara, California just created the perfect Diwali gift for children, through its launch of 'Hindi Play & Learn' that has become the fastest grown Hindi app on the app store. Now, learning about Indian culture and its language just became fun, cool and interactive, thanks to 'Hindi Play and Learn'

What is unique about this app is the creation of 49 original high-end cartoon characters that are both visually stunning and authentically Indian. All produced in the US for Indian Americans to re-connect with their cultural roots. 'Hindi Play & Learn' has stunning interactive play, cute animations, sound-repetition, nine piece puzzles, fun cultural trivia and tracing tutorials to explore Indian culture and learn Hindi, like never seen before! It is available for a free download for the iPad with an in-app purchase and will be available as a universal app for the iPhone around Diwali. 

Created by a husband-wife team. Ashutosh and Rashi Bahri Chitnis, this app was born from their own desires as Indian American Parents wanting to teach their two sons their native languages. Rashi, a filmmaker, broadcast producer and television show host, found herself in a stay-at-home mom position. While she spent her time reading and playing with her two sons, she and her technologist husband Ashutosh also wanted to focus their time in teaching their children their native language in order to connect with the grandparents and extend family living in India. So, they followed a full immersion technique with their older son from birth and by the age of three, he could speak in three different languages, Hindi with his mom, Marathi with his dad and English with his teachers and friends at the Montessori. 

Encouraged, both Rashi and Ashutosh wanted to teach the next step, of writing the languages. This is where the shock came. As they sourced educational content in India, they were appalled to find the Indian markets flooded with much desired books in English and embarrassingly low quality dated material in Hindi. It seems worse when Indian channels run western cartoons dubbed in the native languages versus original engaging content. 

One would expect that India, known for its focus on education along with the largest film industry, is creating more interactive educational content for its children. Yet the facts state differently. Saddened with this realization and wanting to make a difference for their children, Rashi and Ashutosh decided to create 'Hindi Play & Learn.' Rashi partnered with a team of designers, animators, sound designers and programmers in her garage and out two years of production into creating these gorgeous looking characters.

What makes these characters unique is their characterization depicting India's diversity in  a fun playful way. Hindi like any other language has been using certain fruits, animals, vegetables etc to explain letter associations to children. E.g. A for Anar (Pomegranate), Oo for Ullu (Owl) and so forth. 'Hindi Play & Learn' has taken these associations and turned them into cartoon characters from various Indian states, and Indian musical instruments. Therefore, Camel from a simple animal association has become a playful character from Rajasthan, Titli (butterfly) is from Gajarat, Ullu (Owl) is a cricketer, and rabbit is from Tamil Nadu doing the lungi dance and so forth. These characters interact, sing, dance and play with letters to emphasize letter association and the kids can tap their characterization in the puzzle section to learn about Indian culture. Therefore, the app helps the children learn the language but most importantly get a feel of the diverse India by playing with its characters. 

Within months of the app's launch it is already one of the fastest growing Hindi apps in the market. It has only been available for the iPad until now but with increasing requests from moms, dads, and family educators that are always on the go, the team is working full-time to have it released for iPhone around Diwali. 

Rashi confesses that she had originally conceived this idea for television, but with her husband's technology expertise, and the growing increase of educational interactive media; its launch was created for the tablet market first. The end result is that there are numerous downloads every day from across the globe and Shoonya is inundated with requests to release more apps in different Indian languages. Therefore, the team is working on developing the characters to tell stories and teach in various other languages through apps, television and films. 

The most fruitful outcome though, for Rashi and Ashutosh, is that their four-year-old son knows all the Hindi alphabets. He has done most of the voice-overs for the animations while their younger son, a nineteen-month toddler, provided a user testing experience and can imitate the letter sounds, thanks to 'Hindi Play & Learn.'