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Independence Day 2021: This Coder is Re-imagining the Composition of India With Maps of Visual Data

The equivalent of 'bhaiya' in every state. Credits: Ashrish Chowdhury/India in Pixels on Instagram.

The equivalent of 'bhaiya' in every state. Credits: Ashrish Chowdhury/India in Pixels on Instagram.

How round is your state? How much gold does your state buy? A coder is reimagining the geo-political map of India with visual data.

India in 2021 has 29 states. Divided by squiggly lines on paper, India’s diversity is separated by culture, language and an imaginary line drawn through a physical plane. At 75, India is a country that has been through a lot - but how well do its people know each other? How similar do they find situations that they perhaps unknowingly have in common? An Indian software engineer is attempting to change that - by putting it out visually on a map. Ashris Choudhury, known more commonly by the name of the page he runs, ‘India in Pixels’ is redesigning the map of India with visual data content.

What is the literacy rate of Central India? What’s the literacy rate of Western India? Does South India’s literacy look different? How do they look side-by-side on a map? To make numbers look more visual, India in pixel puts out the data in an image very easily identified by Indians: The outline map of India. The content in them differs. Ever wondered how much a state spent on gold?

Kerala spends a lot on gold - about six times more than the second most spending state - Tamil Nadu. The data source splits data based on Rural and Urban spendings which we have weighted averaged using the urbanisation rates of 2011 - Interestingly, Kerala tops both rural and urban list - with rural spendings (₹208.55) greater than the urban spendings (₹189.95, is one of the many maps on the Instagram page which now has 83,000 followers. When Ashris started creating data maps, however, it started the most common way people try to be a ‘content creator’ - with YouTube.

Ashris went to IIT to study architecture, where he found a way to put the mundane in an artistic way. At the juncture where technology met design, Ashris found a way to visually represent it — and then extended it to other things beyond just coursework. It wasn’t however, until he was far, far away from home that he realized he wanted to make content about India. While at MIT in Boston, Ashris had a ‘Swades moment,’ he tells News18, sparking what today has become one of the largest data visualization accounts on Instagram, and has over 51,000 followers on Twitter and 112,000 subscribers on YouTube.

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“The first video I ever posted on my YouTube channel was Indian state based on GDP. It didn’t work," Ashris tells News18. The next video, however, struck a chord with Indians only in the way a sport that has become a cultural phenomenon in the sub-continent can: Cricket. Ashris’s second-ever video, one on cricketers, which was timed during the World Cup, got into public eyes and was shared on multiple social platforms.

From making content about cricket, however, the transition happened to maps only when Ashris realized it was a common ground for people, including him, to relate to. Ashris, who grew up all around India, realized there was not a lot he knew about any state, even his home turf. To change that, he found data from that state others would find interesting: Number of chess grandmasters by state or the dialects of Hindi by state.

“I moved around every two years. I didn’t have a lot of friends," Ashris told News18, and in a way, India in Pixels was also a personal journey for the coder: A way to find out new things about the city, state, country he came from, while far away from it in a dorm room half-way across the world. “It was the response I got to the maps of India that kept me going - and that made India in pixels what it is," he shares. “I would get messages, ‘Thank you for talking about my state’. ‘Thanks for that information, I didn’t know that.’ It made me realize I had a lot more impact with the Indian maps than I thought." At the same time, while researching data for the maps, Ashris was learning more about his own culture.

At present, Ashris creates his own maps from scratch - with a mix of coding and design. Choudhury sources his data from government and university data portals. His most-used sources are the Census, Niti Aayog reports, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, and data from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. For international numbers, he refers to World Bank data and university databases. Barring all professional sources, he also looks at Reddit for inspiration.

Ashris content, sometimes very serious, ranging from how many hospital beds a state has, during India’s devastating second Covid-19 wave, to how circular a state is. A very offbeat map, ‘The equivalent of ‘Bhaiya’ in every state’ went viral earlier this year.

“I like that vibe," Ashris tells News18. “I don’t want people to think I’m all that serious, or someone poring over data. I want people to see the maps as what they are - fun, representations of India."

Ashris has tried a lot more than Indian maps - ranging from visualizing the ‘Musk effect’ and even political mountains of debt, but it’s always the Indian geo-political map that connected with readers in a way others didn’t.

“I think, people finding out more about their state, the same way I did when I started, is what made this page so big," says Ashris.

After all, it’s the ‘yeh jo desh hai tera’ that ties together millions of people who speak different languages, live in different terrain, have completely different lives, have one common identity: Indian.

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first published:August 15, 2021, 07:35 IST