[linux-elitists] [silk] Thathachari holds forth (fwd)

Eugene Leitl Eugene.Leitl@lrz.uni-muenchen.de
Wed Feb 13 01:59:13 PST 2002

-- Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a>
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 14:12:28 +0530
From: Udhay Shankar N <udhay@pobox.com>
Reply-To: silklist@lists.vipul.net
To: silklist@lists.vipul.net
Subject: [silk] Thathachari holds forth

Reposted from Linux-India-General.

Thaths and Fred are both on this list, for those who want to ask more


>Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 11:49:51 +0530 (IST)
>From: Frederick Noronha <fred@bytesforall.org>
>To: linux-india-general@lists.sourceforge.net
>Subject: [LIG] Thaths it! ... how Linux-India blossomed into chaos
>To so many Linux enthusiasts across India, he's simply known as Thaths. But
>Sudhakar Chandrashekar modestly calls himself a "slacker at large".
>This is one of the guys who played a key role in promoting the Linux India
>network... even while seated many thousand miles away, in the offices of
>Netscape, in the US.
>"Growing up all over India made me a wanderer," says he.  Thaths graduated
>with a BE from "small-time" Annamalai University in 1993 in the extreme
>south of India.  But, he says he'll "never trade the wonderful experience in
>Annamalai for any of the IITs of the world".
>Following the footsteps of thousands of other young Indian graduates he went
>to the US to do an MS at the University of Texas at Austin.  He soon became
>"disillusioned with academia" and dropped out to pursue a career in the then
>emerging Internet industry.
>"Six years of working in the industry drained some more idealism," as he put
>it.  He is currently looking for a satisfying career in teaching or
>photography or programming. We've exchanged e-mails for a while -- guess
>that must be the case with many fans of Linux in India -- and only met
>flesh-and-bones in December 2001, at the LinuxBangalore2001 mega meet, when
>this unassuming young man dropped in unannounced.
>Here's a story which is typical of many Indian software geeks of this
>generation -- home-grown experts whose parents simply didn't have the money
>to buy a computer... and who (as in Thaths' case) probably had to sneak in
>their first copy of Linux onto their office PC while the boss was away.
>Let's walk through Thaths's life and, side by side, learn part of the story
>of Linux India and its exploits in recent years.  You can contact this
>'slacker at large' at thaths at aunet.org
>Thaths, in his twenties, spoke to FREDERICK NORONHA for this interview:
>At what stage did you come across Linux India?
>I think it was late 1997.  Linux India then had maybe five to six
>subscribers.  I recall Arun Sharma and Karra Dakshinamurthy (ILUG-Chennai,
>in Southern India) as being part of the mailing list.
>There was no set purpose for LI back then.  We were all engaged in thinking
>about various ideas to start Linux-based businesses in India and to
>popularize the OS (Operating System).
>Since then, what major developments happened on the Linux-India front? Has
>it moved forward or back? Any major missed opportunities that could be
>regretted? Did we do better than expected?
>The most major development that happened was the explosion in awareness and
>membership to the mailing lists.  (From five or six when I joined) by the
>time I left in early 2001, there were over 2000 active and non-active
>The blooming of the regional LUGs was also a wonderful thing.  The regional
>LUGs provide wonderful hands-on support that are needed for many users.  And
>they also foster a sense of community that a simple mailing list cannot
>So in that sense, the movement has definitely moved forward.
>As for missed opportunities, I'm not sure.  My one single lost opportunity
>would be not registering LI an official nationwide non-profit organization.
>I think for a brief while during LI's existence there was a window of
>opportunity for creation of a nation-wide body.  But that window closed and
>the LI community began to be more regional in nature with more active
>involvement of members in their local LUGs (Linux User Groups).
>I am ambivalent about this.  In a sense this is exactly the sort of issue
>India as a nation is going through.  Am I an Indian first and a Tamil
>second?  Or am I a Tamil first and an Indian second.  There is no right
>answer.  Yin and Yang.
>A nation-wide body has the advantage of providing a unified face to the
>world.  But such a unified face would in fact be a mask hiding the many
>divisions within the body.
>The small local LUGs, on the other hand, provide a nice cozy atmosphere.
>Different LUGs, I notice today, provide different focuses.  ILUG-Chennai,
>for example, seems to be focusing on Debian.  ILUG-Bangalore seems to be
>focussing on Linux for businesses and research.  The disadvantage of local
>LUGs is that they cannot aspire for bigger events.
>The Simputer project is one of the things I'm most proud of.  Even
>though it did not directly come from the LI efforts, I'd like to believe
>that the groundwork of popularising Linux that LI did helped the
>Simputer project in some way.
>What were your own experiences with Linux?
>I was one of the first batch of school students that were exposed to
>computers in 11th and 12th standards.  I remember gaining most of my
>knowledge through reading outdated books than through actual hands-on
>In school, they were teaching things like FORTRAN and core memory -- things
>that I would never use in my life.  The teachers were not that great either.
>Very soon I realized that I had more information on programming than the
>I was allotted two hours of computer hands-on time every week.  Because I
>befriended the teachers, they would let me use the computers in the morning,
>before the school assembly, and during lunch.  So I could squeeze in maybe
>an extra hour a day.
>My family isn't rich and we could not afford buying a computer.  So I joined
>British Council because they had an aging BBC Micro that I could use.  My
>first "real" program was a game that I wrote using BASIC.
>Studying Unix in a course during college, I fell in love with it.
>One of my friends who was in the US mailed me a printout of the New Hackers
>Dictionary (Jargon File) and after reading about the history of the Internet
>and Unix, I was hooked.
>I finally had a role model to aspire to -- J. Random Hacker.
>I used Windows only when I came to the US.  Most of my previous exposure was
>to DOS and command-line Unix.  When I first started working, I started
>playing around with Linux (this was around December 1995) because I wanted
>to install a full fledged Unix system and maintain it.
>I didn't have the money to buy expensive software such as web servers for
>Windows NT 3.51.  But Linux came with its own set of industrial strength
>servers and I could download them all for free.
>Serious involvement with Linux began for me in early 1997. When not
>satisfied with my Windows NT desktop, I installed Debian on my system one
>week when my boss was away.  By the time he came back, I had a perfectly
>running system and he couldn't really say anything.
>You obviously see a special potential for Linux in India. Why?
>India has a long history with Unix.  Many of our legacy applications are
>developed for the mainframes or Unix machines.  With Linux, we could
>cheaply and easily migrate these legacy applications to newer hardware.
>A developing country like India cannot really afford paying thousands of
>dollars to buy expensive licenses from Sun and Microsoft. I think every
>government-funded software effort should be based on Linux. Instead of
>using tax-payer money to buy software from foreign companies, we should be
>using this money to develop applications using Linux.  This way, the
>government would be funneling public funds back into the community.
>Despite India's many strengths in the IT industry, we have not really
>produced any popular application.  Indian IT industry seems to be
>concentrating on the services sector.  Linux's freely available source code
>could provide the spark that is needed to make India a developer of
>applications too.
>Tell us something about your collaboration with some of the key players
>promoting Linux in India? Whom do you really admire and why?
>It is difficult to name one single person.  But I decide to offend some
>of the players by naming names.  Arun Sharma, the founder of LI, is
>someone I admire.  Were it not for him LI might not have existed.
>I see him being attacked these days because of his stand on defending other
>alternative operating systems such as FreeBSD.  This is deplorable.  Arun
>often shines fresh light on the clannish nature of Linux and the
>short-sightedness of some of its proponents.
>People like him are essential to the community.  In the words of Thomas
>Jefferson, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." People like Arun
>provide the vigilance that freedom requires.  Somebody has to have the
>courage to say the emperor (the penguin) is only partially clothed.
>You suddenly took-off from the Linux-India network, and quit amidst some
>mystery. Why?
>There is no single reason.  Only a bunch of reasons.
>For starters, I reached a watershed in my career and my life.  I finally had
>some independence to choose the job I wanted.  I've always wanted to travel
>around the world.  I took this opportunity to actually do it.
>Another reason was that the LI community was depending too much on my
>neutrality.  My neutrality was because I was not physically in India.
>If I were a member of ILUG-Chennai, I'm not sure I would have the same
>reputation of being impartial.
>I felt that I was a crutch.  Sometimes it is essential to take away the
>crutch from the recovering person so that she may fully regain her strength.
>Can you chart the growth of Linux-India? What were the major milestones
>along the way? Also the growth of LUGs?
>LI mailing lists grew from five to almost 2000 people in three years.  That
>is a significant growth.  However, it must be pointed out that during the
>last two years the growth has stagnated.
>This is partially because of the inherent nature of high volume mailing
>lists.  High volume mailing lists are not conducive to newbies.  Only the
>die-hards can handle the amount of emails generated in the list.
>I would say the major milestones were Bangalore IT.com, Jon "Maddog" Hall
>and Richard Stallman's trips to India, the Simputer project, localization of
>KDE into Indian languages by the IndLinux project.
>The flowering of the local LUGs is also commendable.
>There are now LUGs not only in the metros but also small towns.  I think it
>would be nice if every major university or engineering or science college
>established a LUG in their city if one does not already exist.
>If Indians have not contributed to GNU/Linux as much as they could
>have, why do you believe this is so?
>I think the lack of direct first-hand contribution is not only restricted to
>Linux and IT.  There are other areas too in which India has not made
>significant contributions in the recent past.
>When the British introduced the English (language) education system in
>India, we produced Nobel laureates in only two generations.  Tagore and
>C.V.Raman's grandparents did not have the benefits of a modern Western
>This is something to be proud of.  However, I see that we as a nation have
>not produced any great scientists or engineers in the recent past.  People
>like Sabeer Bhatia or Hotmail fame and (BV) Jagdeesh and Chandrashekar of
>Exodus fame are better businessmen than engineers or scientists.  With the
>hindsight of the industry downturn, much of their lustre is also lost.
>I think the reason for this state of affairs is the lack of infrastructure.
>The free market economic theorists say that if foreign investment were
>allowed into India, the money would trickle down from the consumer sectors
>into infrastructure.  I don't know if this is true.
>Only time will tell.
>Do you anticipate a bursting forth of Indians on the GNU/Linux scene
>globally in times ahead?
>I do.  Already there are a small but significant number of contributors to
>the Linux kernel.  We have Indians working on the KDE and Helix Gnome
>Our educational system, despite its many faults, is better than the systems
>in many countries.  I am sure that as more and more young teenagers get
>access to the Internet and computers, our involvement in GNU/Linux would
>vastly improve.
>What are the strategies that would work best for the growth of Linux in
>India -- decentralisation, more LUGs, localisation, media blitz, what else?
>Linux should be incorporated into the curriculum of schools and colleges.
>Linux, in addition to being a robust operating system, is also a wonderful
>tool for education.  All government-funded IT research should be done under
>an open software license.
>One last advice I have is for people considering a career in computers.  Do
>not register for a course that your computer institute says is hot.  The
>industry moves so fast that by the time you graduate in a year or so, this
>field might not be as desirable.
>Learn the basics well and then choose to study what interests you.  If you
>study what interests you then you will excel in it.  And if you excel in it
>you don't have to worry about getting a job.
>Tell us something about yourself, career past and future plans, what makes
>you tick.
>I grew up in a typical middle-class south Indian family.  Luckily for me, my
>father had a transferable job and this gave me an opportunity to live in
>many parts of India and experience India's diversity first-hand.
>Even as a young boy I was into tinkering with mechanical things.
>I clearly remember the first toy motor that my father bought me from a
>second hand store.  Being mechanical minded, I had no second thoughts about
>becoming an engineer.  I did my Bachelor's degree in Annamalai University in
>Chidambaram.  After graduation I then took the easiest avenue available to
>me -- doing an MS in the States.
>I realized while doing my MS in Biomedical Engineering that I did not like
>that field very much.  So I dropped out of college in summer of 1995 and
>found a job with Prodigy in New York working on developing their next
>generation Internet access software.
>When I got an interview call from Netscape in late 1996 there really were no
>doubts in my mind that it was my dream job.
>But after working at Netscape for 4.5 years I realized that my work was only
>making rich people richer and not contributing directly to the community.
>I have decided to pursue a career in the non-profit sector.
>What makes me tick?  I'd say the pleasure I get from teaching someone
>something.  When I realize that I have conveyed some idea to someone else
>and they have understood it, a sense of fulfillment fills me.
>Homo Sapiens are the only species that have developed the art of
>communicating abstract ideas via language.  It is interesting to think that
>hundreds of years after we are gone our ideas in the form of our words will
>continue existing for future generations.
>Frederick Noronha * Freelance Journalist * Goa * India 832.409490 / 409783
>BYTESFORALL www.bytesforall.org  * GNU-LINUX http://linuxinindia.pitas.com
>Email fred@bytesforall.org * SMS 9822122436@attcell.net * 784 Saligao Goa
>Writing with a difference... on what makes *the* difference

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