A youngster from a carpenter’s family might not seem a likely candidate to craft cyberspace. But this is exactly what Raju Suthar has been doing, one mobile keypad stroke at a time.
This lanky 18-year-old from near Jodhpur in Rajasthan is a carpenter, studying in his first year at undergrad college. He has been editing the Hindi Wikipedia using an ancient plain vanilla mobile phone, which he only recently upgraded to a smartphone.
The Wikipedia is a volunteer-crafted encyclopedia, and editors who take up the task themselves play a crucial role in keeping this product running. The Wikipedia, mainly due to its English and other better established language versions, is the sixth most visited site in the world.
But Hindi too — a language of some 550 million primary and secondary speakers — gets an estimated 9,721 views per hour, and has a total of 106,844 articles. This, despite the fact that as of June 2016, it had an estimated barely 0.2 volunteer editors per million speakers.
"I came across the Wikipedia as an eighth standard student. I noticed that the top results (of online searches) would often throw up links to this site," he told IANS on the sidelines of the recently concluded Wikiconference 2016 here.
Suthar is from the region of Nagaur, the name of both a city and district in Rajasthan, midway between Jodhpur and Bikaner. He signed up to become one of the millions of global volunteers on Wikipedia in January 2015.
By way of figures, the English Wikipedia has 28.8 million users who registered a username. But only an estimated 112,000 users — a little over a tenth of a million — contribute regularly and have edited it in the past month or so.
Since he joined, Suthar has crafted some "820-plus" articles, and has undertaken 7,500 edits. Wikipedians meeting up in the Chandigarh-Mohalli area voiced pleasant surprise, if not awe, over how Suthar managed to achieve so much using a humble mobile.
He explained, speaking in Hindi, how he used his modest, Java-enabled Samsung phone to write a series of articles about his favourite topic — cricket.
"There aren’t enough cricket articles in the Hindi Wikipedia; so I set up a ‘wiki project cricket’ and we now have some 70-80 articles," he says.
Suthar’s favourite player is M.S. Dhoni, whose "helicopter shots" he is an unabashed fan of. Suthar says he himself wins regular village trophies back home, but his cricketing ambitions don’t go beyond that for the present.
"In Jodhpur, there are just two Wikipedians (as volunteer editors of the Wikipedia are called) working in Hindi," he says with a mix of regret and pride.
Doing his first year in Hindi literature, he hopes to one day join the "RAS (Rajasthan Administrative Service) or the Rajasthan Police", he told IANS. But while studying and volunteering in cyberspace, he also continues with his traditional carpentry work.
Raju Suthar gives a new meaning to crafting content in cyberspace.