handwritten character recognition. This paper tackles the problem of recognizing characters in images of natural scenes. In particular, we focus on recognizing characters in situations that would traditionally not be handled well by OCR techniques. We present an annotated database of images containing English and Kannada characters. The database comprises of images of street scenes taken in Bangalore, India using a standard camera. The problem is addressed in an object cateogorization framework based on a bag-of-visual-words representation. We assess the performance of various features based on nearest neighbour and SVM classification. It is demonstrated that the performance of the proposed method, using as few as 15 training images, can be far superior to that of commercial OCR systems. Furthermore, the method can benefit from synthetically generated training data obviating the need for expensive data collection and annotation.