On April 6, 2014, I get an e-mail from Praveen, enquiring about the possibility  of conducting a MiniDebConf in Amritapuri.

The e-mail that started it all
The e-mail that started it all

Praveen had previously visited Amritapuri and I can only hope he would’ve been impressed with the work being done over there. We at Amritapuri, have a very active FOSS club that is doing some incredible things. A quick look at the contribution list[1] would tell you the whole story. While I had attempted to package a gem in Diaspora and was in very good terms with a few members(like Praveen) from the Debian community, at that moment when I received the mail, I was contributing to the KDE. I was in love with the K desktop environment and wanted to and infact had started contributing to one of their projects(viz the Plasma Media Center). So when I heard of a MiniDebConf, I wasn’t overly excited to  be honest. I quickly forwarded the mail to my mentor and the response was positive, very positive and I was made a part of the organizing team.

Now the event was definitely on, and there would be regular discussions every week, listing out the major tasks to be done and how they should be approached. Discussions very at times lengthy and intense and all of this was new experience for all of us involved. The last FOSS conference in hosted in our university was the FOSSTER’09(the site has been taken down since then). As the name suggests, the event was done back in 2009 and most of the organizers of that event had graduated and we now had a group of enthusiastic and talented students, but none of us had the experience in organizing an event of this scale.

A core organizing team was formed and the tasks were divided among us and we went about getting them done. I have to say that initially we were very inefficient in doing our tasks and it was a while before the dates were finalized as well, which I believe had us under the illusion that we had plenty of time at our disposal. It was not long before the dates were finalized and all of a sudden the tasks seemed to pile on spontaneously. But we still somehow managed to stay calm and didn’t really panic. I was given the charge of leading organizational/administrative works for the event. I however, never really saw myself as anything more than a point of contact between the FOSS club at Amrita and the Debian community. More often than not, I was the one involved in discussions and meetings and made sure that the both the parties were at a common level of understanding.

After a series of discussions it was now time to move on to some serious work, like getting the website ready, publicizing the event and dispatching sponsorship letters etc. For the website, we had a dedicated team of students from Pune, who did a commendable job in giving us the initial event website. It was plain and simple but nothing more, it didn’t please many but we still decided to stick with it initially. The updated the website with details, added OSM(Open Street Maps) among other features but it still lacked something. It was then that we had to call in some reinforcements in the form of Tony(smarting from his GSoC project completion with MediaWiki) and Avinash Joshi(an Alumni of the FOSS club who bought the theme for the new website). Once the website was done, it gave all of us a huge lift and brought along a feel good factor.

Meanwhile, there were a lot of discussions taking place in the Debian mailing lists and it would be a defining one indeed. As a result of these discussions, the event was renamed from a MiniDebConf to the Debutsav. I’m not going into what the discussions were about, [2][3] might help you get an idea of that. Everything was going fine and I had just sent a visa invite to Jaldhar Vyas, a long term DD(Debian Developer) residing in the US. I was personally elated to know that someone like Jaldhar was going to attend the event, coming all the way from the US. Later on however, there were some issues and he never got his visa. The rest is ofcourse history. We were now facing the prospect of not having a renowned speaker/personality to give the keynote. Praveen was the obvious candidate in such a case. But then he was also a major part of the agenda of what followed the keynote. It was a concern. Enter Krishnakant Mane(a.k.a KK). He blindly(quite literally) extended his support in organizing the event. We happened to meet during one of our discussions regarding the event, along with Shirish at Pune. It was definitely one of the best things that happened during that short vacation that I had during the Amma’s birthday(yes, we have holidays for our chancellor’s birthday). I had heard of KK, he had famously featured on the show Satyamev Jayate[4]. But not even in the wildest of my dreams had I thought that he would be able to make it to the event and that too as a keynote speaker. I invited him and his team to my place and we discussed about various possibilities and how the event can be pulled off given the time constraint we were in. It was a huge boost to have his support, given the fact that we were only just recovering from the blow of knowing that Jaldhar wouldn’t be able to make it to the event. I was just starting to think that after all the turbulence, with the name of the event coming under question and other such similar issues, we were finally seeing good things. The website was also functioning flawlessly, we were able to attract few sponsors and the CFP was made public. The agenda was ready, we had some nice talks, not all which were selected due to financial constraints among the many reasons.  We had planned for a lot of lightning talks and many hands on sessions to help our participants take the most out of the event. T-shirts were printed and mementos and goodies ordered as well. We were now well and truly ready for the event and then an unfortunate incident happened. I’m not going to mention or indeed give away any details. It happened a day before the event, and while the college was shut down and everyone was asked to vacate their hostels, a group of around 20 stayed back and had the guts to organize what would turn out to be a marvelous event against all odds was indeed commendable.

If one were to look at the numbers, in terms of the participants, and only the numbers, the Debutsav would look a complete failure. But seldom does quantity matter more than quality 🙂

[5][6] are the experiences of Praveen and Balasankar. They were both an integral part of the event and [7] shows a few more shots of the event 🙂

Here’s a small gallery of some of the telling moments of this year’s Debutsav, from my point of view. #DebUtsav14

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


[1] http://foss.amrita.ac.in/site/contributions/
[2] https://lists.debian.org/debian-dug-in/2014/09/msg00012.html
[3] https://harishnavnit.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/debutsav-14-behind-the-scenes/
[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWMo_2-aqpQ
5] http://www.j4v4m4n.in/2014/10/23/debutsav-14-at-amrita-a-rewarding-experience/
[6] http://balasankarc.in/tech/celebrating-deepavali-differently-debutsav-14/
[7] https://poddery.com/posts/1407655


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