The Real Magic

In 1999, we were battling to get recognition for the Linux and FOSS community in business circles. Repeated attempts at getting the community included in various industry events had not met with any success.

At a party at a friend’s place a year earlier, I met Sanjoy Das Gupta, who a little while later became Karnataka’s first IT Secretary. I met him several times over the next year, and each time told him more about Linux and FOSS – at his own prompting. He was fascinated with the concept, and being a non-technical guy, kept using the phrase “this is the real magic”.

When IT.COM 99 was announced, I asked Sanjoy if there was some way that the Linux community (as we were known then) could get involved. Clearly, we would need two things – Bangalore IT.COM’s permission to exhibit at an event that had Microsoft as a prominent exhibitor, and a sponsor to pay for what we did.

In August 1999, at our regular Bangalore Linux Users Group meeting, I brought up this point, and asked people to come up with ideas. One guy from the back stood up and came forward – Sanjoy Das Gupta, who had sneaked into the meeting a few minutes earlier. He came to the podium, talked to the BLUG, and asked us what we needed. We told him a stall would be nice. He replied “A stall? I will give you a pavilion”. He also spoke a bit about how important he considered Linux in the Indian context – surprising many people sitting in the audience with his clear understanding about the concepts of FOSS.

We were sceptical – words are cheap, but Sanjoy lived up to his promise. Not only did we get an entire Linux Pavilion, with the Linux community occupying the place of honour right in the center, but thanks to sponsorship we received from PCQuest, we were given just about every resource we needed to make it the most popular pavilion at the expo. Organisers kept announcing on the PA “Please keep moving – there are many other pavilions apart from the Linux pavilion” which had us in splits. The Times of India called us “The Crown Jewel of Bangalore IT.COM 99″.

On one of the days, I came back from lunch, to find the central portion of the pavilion *so* crowded with visitors that I just couldnt get in. Which was OK with me, the community was handling things splendidly, and they didn’t really need me. But I watched one guy struggling to get in there to see things, and he just couldn’t manage. I decided to go help him, and patted him on the shoulder to get his attention. He turned around, and it was Sanjoy. And far from being upset about his predicament, he was grinning from ear to ear. He was thrilled with the response we were getting.

Figures later showed that almost 150,000 people had gone through the Linux pavilion over the course of the event – an unbelievable success, and the thing that launched the Indian Linux and FOSS community into the limelight.

We have never looked back since, and IT.COM 99, and Sanjoy’s grand gesture, were a stepping stone that eventually resulted in Linux Bangalore and now FOSS.IN, allowing us to reach thousands of people and spread the FOSS message.

This morning, I woke up to see the a news item in the paper: Sanjoy Das Gupta had passed away after suffering a heartattack, at the age of 51.

Not many people know how much we owe Sanjay for doing what he did in 1999. Sure, people who don’t really understand things will say “he was just being a politician”, but those of us who knew what he did know that this was not the case. He genuinely believed in the same things we did.

I’d like to put on record that the FOSS community owes him a debt of gratitude, and that he was living proof of the fact that you do not have to be a developer to contribute to FOSS.

Thank you, Sanjoy Das Gupta.

And yes, this is the real magic.