$Revision: 1.5 $
Copyright © 2005 Harald Welte <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This document is meant to give foreign speakers some guidance to the FOSS.in/2005 (formerly known as Linux Bangalore) conference in Bangalore, India. It is based on the author's experience of visiting LB2003 and LB2004. It has been announced that LB2005 will see some significant changes (such as a different venue), so don't count on every bit neccesarily being true for upcoming events. Corrections and suggestions are always welcome, though.
Table of Contents
Presenting at a conference in India gives you the chance to grasp a glimpse of this remarkable country, its diverse culture, religion (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Parsi, Jain and Sikh!), vegetation, the immense population of one billion, the extreme poor on the one hand, and the rich and luxurious on the other, agriculture and computer science.
India has many different languages, written in completely different scripts. The educated people will all speak English, even among themselves (since they might have different mother tongues). Hindi (written in Devanagari script) is also fairly common all over the country. However, the local language in Bangalore is Kannada (which again uses a different script).
This plethora of languages can result in interesting adventures, such as having a taxi driver who has just moved in from a different part of the country and therefore can't read the Kannada-Language street signs ;). But nothing to worry about, he'll stop a couple of times and ask locals for instructions.
One of the important things is that there is a tradition of politeness in the Indian culture. It's your obligation to always be even more polite than your opponent. Therefore, you will find their use of the English language probably quite strange. Everybody will refer to you as "Sir", "Madam", "Lady", etc.
The other way around, Indians (especially those not used to dealing with foreigners that much) tend to consider the use of English by the rest of the world terribly impolite and some times even rude. You can therefore make everybodies life easier, if you tried to be a bit more polite than usual.
The Indian currency is the Rupee. Cash is way more commonly used than imost visitors (especially Americans) will be used to. However, the "plastic revolution" didn't stop in India, and the acceptance of major international credit cards is widespread. Also, ATMs can be spotted around every 3rd corner, at least in big cities like Bangalore. So don't worry, no need for traveller cheques or similar.
Make sure you always have enough small change on you, if not only for the various tips that everybody expects you to give.
You might know Indian food from your home country, since Indian food seems to be quite popular almost everywhere. The food that you get at home is, however, typically northern indian food. Since Bangalore is rather much down to the south, you will get quite different food from what you know from the indian restaurants.
Needless to say, whatever most indian places in the west call "spicy" is only a very moderate level of spicing in India. So be careful to not order something that locals consider spicy, unless you're really into that stuff.
It's not recommended to eat food from the small kitchens that you'll see everywhere on the road. Their level of hygiene is not necessarily high enough for our weak, untrained stomach to cope with. Since food in India will seem cheap for us rich aliens, you can avoid any risk by going to the "expensive" places. For those who really need to get some food at cheaper and less clean places, I've been recommended to prefer vegetarian dishes over meat dishes. If you've seen the roadside butchers, you know why that is ;)
Cheaper is not necessarily less clean. Ask a local for guidance.
It's also probably a nice idea to try the local south Indian incarnation of breakfast. It consists of hot (and again fairly spicy) dishes. It provides with a very different start into the day :)
Also, for us weak westerners, the general rule is: Do NOT drink water from the tap. There are just so many bacteria and germs in India which our organism is not used to, and your immune system will have a lot of work anyway, so don't stress it too much, ok?
When buying bottled water, always check that the seal is not broken yet (some folks tend to refill the mineral water bottles with water from the tap). At some restaurants, the waiter will show you the virgin seal of the bottle before opening it.
Alcohol is being frowned upon in some parts of the country. Large cities have a larger degree of westernization, so Bangalore isn't all that much different from other parts of the world. You'll find a number of bars and pubs here.
At least in the major cities you have good GSM and CDMA coverage. GSM uses the European bands. Make sure to check which of the Indian operators has the best rates for roaming with your particular contract.
The international prefix for India is +91. Numbers look like +91-9845812345. If you're using your GSM phone, you can directly dial the number like that. If you call them from a phone booth (called STD booth), replace the +91 with a 0 (zero).
There is an increasing number of direct flights into Bangalore. Unless you're one of the adventurous guys, it's recommended to take one of the direct flights to Bangalore. By 'direct' I mean flights with no domestic hop inside India. Emirates runs flights from Dubai to Bangalore, and a number of European airlines run flights from cities such as London or Frankfurt.
When you can't avoid a stopover in Mumbai(Bombay) the following notes might help you: The airport terminal building is nothing but a very small hall with the very minimal set of ticket counters, and leaving the airport puts you immediately into one of the suburbs of the city. Also, the Mumbai airport is basically two airports, and you need to take a shuttle bus from the international part to the domestic part. Ask at the airport about transfers. The two airports are about 6 km away from each other.
Once in Bangalore, somebody will pick you up at the airport and bring you to the speaker hotel (or to your 'homestay', if you have arranged for such a thing).
For the regular speaker travel (between hotel and the venue) there are shuttle services provided by the conference and or it's sponsors, so you don't have to worry about that.
Don't be surprised by the extent of traffic jams especially during rush hours. The infrastructure is heavily overloaded by the fast growth of the city during the last decade. So remember to make sure to have enough extra time. Sometimes travelling a short distance can take very long.
For short trips within the city, you have a range of choices. It starts with a small three-wheeler autorickshaw (you have to do this once!), continues with the typical "Ambassador" taxis (yet another experience!), and ends with western cars that have air conditioning (how lame).
For day-trips or even more: No tourist drives a rental car here. The work of labour is so cheap, that you get the driver with the car for free. Now you can think of this as exploitation, but on the other hand you give that guy a job and a chance to earn his living. Also, no tourist would be able to cope with the kind of traffic they have. So sit back, enjoy and relax (if you can do that with all the smell from 2-stroke engines and the horn being the most important part of every car).
First of all, you will be overwhelmed by the size of the event. There are some 3,000 to 3,500 attendees participating, whether you believe it or not.
Secondly, it's a community-organized event, run by the BLUG (Bangalore Linux User Group), a non-for-profit under Indian law. All the hard work is done by volunteers, so don't expect anything fancy.
The entrance fee is small, even for local prices. The fee is mostly spent on food (which is complimentary) and the conference T-Shirt (which for some strange reason at least a quarter of the attendees doesn't seem to pick up, even though it's free).
Besides the scheduled presentations/talks (which like every large-scale event has a number of tracks in parallel), there are a small number of booths where both commercial vendors and community projects present themselves.
Given the size of the audience, you cannot really make broad statements, since they would be an invalid generalization. It has been my experience though, that at least a significant part of the audience is very technical, and they're keen to hear about low-level technical stuff (so don't make your presentation too high-level!).
Always remember, Bangalore is the "IT capital" of India, that's where most of the IT outsourcing companies reside. So you'll meet people doing low-level (driver and os-level) development. They may not be as familiar with Linux and Free Software (yet), but they are familiar with the respective counterparts in the proprietary world.
But obviously, there's also a large LUG, student and sysadmin crowd... as I said, quite a diverse audience.
Oh, one thing I still forgot to mention is the gender ratio. From events in the rest of the world, you know the 99% male ratio. India is quite different. I don't have any official statistics, nor did I count. But I'd say some 25-30% of the attendees at this event are female.
In short: It's best you don't expect to have any outside connectivity at the event. It might improve this year, but internet connectivity (especially at bandwidths that foreigners are used to) is extremely expensive. As a speaker, your're a VIP and you _might_ be able to get your share of a CDMA wireless uplink for short amounts of time, but don't count on it.
You have a higher chance of going online from other places, such as the home and/or office of organizers, or sponsor companies.
There's a speakers lounge where speakers can hang out, relax, have some softdrinks, recharge their notebook batteries, talk and generally have fun.
Of course I wouldn't have been able to write this document if I wasn't invited to attend Linux Bangalore twice in a row. Many thanks go to Atul Chitnis and the rest of the organizers, as well as the sponsors who actually paid for my flight tickets. Thanks also to Devdas Bhagat, who added all the Wikipedia links and corrected many spelling mistakes.