Friday, June 4, 2010

One kind of a Conference

I recently attended a conference in Delhi, my first ever conference in India. There were 2 things that I didn't have to worry about - clothes and food. While on the one side, I can get away with salwars which are considered formal without having to worry about shirts and slacks and suits and shoes, on the other side, I could rely on really good vegetarian food (which is a rarity w.r.t conferences in Europe and is only slightly better in the US)

If you are wondering why food is a priority...well...I am an Indian for one and you really need energy to keep listening to people for a whole day irrespective of how interesting (or how boring) the topic is and you cannot even relax during the breaks because that is when you make contacts, look for the right people to talk to and to exchange visiting cards with.

There was one thing that stood out - people had either killer slides or were slide killers. The former had pictures, animations and very few words while the latter were from excited (you remember when you first started using word and realised that you had so many fonts and colors to play with ??) first time microsoft powerpoint users and had multiple colors/fonts/every possible word art that every slide made you squint to protect your eyes. It was no Gaussian distribution ! The same argument holds for the technical competence, it was again an either-or situation.

Noone cared about time. All sessions started late and during the whole time, only 2 speakers actually stayed within the allotted time limit. It was funny to watch the chairperson requesting the speaker to summarise since he was running out of time and speaker nodding but still speaking :D and this happened EVERY time !

And of course like any other function in India, there was an inauguration, chief guest, memento presentation and vote of thanks - It brought back fond memories of functions in college, where I used to go around making notes to make sure I thank all the people and in the RIGHT order !

The dinner reception was a surprise, there was a music band (that sang both English and desi songs) and at the end of the dinner, people started singing and dancing ! I was invited to dance too but it simply was impossible for me because all along I had this thought hammered in my brain ''I am here in official capacity'' probably because of all the resistance I had built up from less entertaining conferences elsewhere in the world !

What amused me totally was how confused people became when they started talking to me. They would start by assuming that I work in Delhi and then that I work elsewhere in India and then when I actually tell them I work in Munich they will have an exasperated look because of my completely desi attire. The next frustrating part for them would be to figure out where I come from - I had people talking to me in Hindi, Punjabi, Malayalam, Telugu and what I understood to be Bengali ! Many found my name difficult to spell or pronounce....so much for thinking that Sowmya is a common name !

Oh..well...I accomplished more than what I had on my to-do list for this conference - learnt a lot, met a number of technical Czars and in spite of being the last speaker on the last day of the conference, I had a full house and what's more everyone stayed until the end of the presentation ...so I have nothing to complain about.

And did I mention that the food was absolutely delicious :D ?! They actually had desserts I had never tasted before. Did you know there was a dessert which has basundhi spread over a slice of gulab jamun, was unbelievably good !

And that's something no conference outside India can offer.....
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