Tribute to Dr. Ramanath Sahai

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Our communal tribute to Dr. Ramanath Sahai

When we at Reverie started working on Machine Translation earlier this year, we knew it would be highly complex but we had no idea how hard a challenge it was going to be.

It speaks volumes that the team took the solving of this hard problem as an enthusiastic effort. We pulled all-nighters and burnt the midnight oil over many weekends. The commitment of the team to put a very visible dent in Machine Translation problems was so high that the entire organisation rose to the occasion. Solutions were being discussed during office hours, the all-nighter marathons, meals, and sometimes, even during sleep.

When we started out, it was difficult to even discover previously done works in this area, especially when it came to Indic languages. However, providence does seem to arrange for a sincere effort.

Once, while Arvind, our CEO, was at a workshop, he met a co-participant, Mr. Jyoti Sahai. Mr. Sahai was unique among the attendees in the workshop of entrepreneurs. He was older than most in the workshop and fascinated Arvind with his enthusiasm about his venture.

As they discussed more, Arvind came to know that Mr. Jyoti Sahai’s father, Dr. Ramanath Sahai, has been working in the Machine Translation field to transform English content to Hindi.

He was 93 years old.

He used to write his programs in Python. He had a semantic process that would accurately translate while retaining the essence of sentences, paragraphs and subjects.

When we learned about him from Arvind, we were keen to meet this exceptional nanogenarian, who was as enthusiastic as us, if not more, to solve Machine Translation problems. Dr. Sahai was famous for his translation of Oxford dictionaries from English to Hindi and many other publications and works in Hindi, Sanskrit, and English.

But, computing at 93? We were hooked.

Dr. Sahai was originally from Agra and visited his son in Bangalore once a year. When we met him in Bangalore on March 7, 2016, we had little time left with him as he was travelling to Agra in a few days.

It was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He was already ready with information about Reverie and us. He was proficient in using computers and looked everything up on Google and LinkedIn.

When we put forth our questions to Dr. Sahai, he answered us with matter-of-fact solutions.

This rendezvous was something akin to a rare epiphany that strikes you at the opportune moment when you are discussing hard-to-solve problems with one of your friends or co-workers or even acquaintances. The problem is not easy to solve, and you are not in the wrong for not having a direction paved out for you. The path will appear as you work on it.

He was so detailed and thorough that we were awe struck. This meeting lasted more than four hours and ended because he thought we were tired and needed rest (he wasn’t very wrong).

Dr. Sahai had been working on the Machine Translation problems for over 25 years (much before he got to even see or use a computer). After a decade of having done a significant amount of work on paper and pen, he started working on computers. He not only learnt how to use a computer when he was in his late 70s but also learnt programming and was absolutely proficient in using advanced tools and macros to deal with text—something that every advanced student of NLP needs.

Dr. Sahai was scheduled to return to Agra the following week. We couldn’t help but request him to extend his stay. He was usually a determined and methodical person and wouldn’t make deviations from his plans. Yet, here were a few children who showed exuberant enthusiasm in working under his guidance. He wanted the work to progress. After extending his stay for four weeks, he continued helping us from Agra.

We were shocked and sad to lose Dr. Sahai when he passed away on 27 May, 2016. But, we are left with boundless inspiration from his work and commitment to this cause.

We at Reverie owe this exceptional man our deepest gratitude.

Perhaps this last rendezvous was a cosmic plan for us to carry on his legacy and complete his work. We have not only been lifted by this enlightened soul but are committed to make his unfinished dream a reality. A successful, functional, and usable reality.

Thank you, Dr. Sahai. May your soul rest in peace.