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Delhi (2005-01-31 to 2005-02-03)

by Richard Stallman Contributions Published on Jul 12, 2010 05:03 PM
I arrived at Delhi at 3am on a flight that had been delayed by an hour and a half. I had expected to do a lot of work on the flight, but I was unexpectedly drowsy and nodded off for a few hours. When I arrived at the airport, the wait for passport control was only 20 minutes, and I spent part of the time explaining free software to another passenger who was curious about it. My bag was already in the carousel when I reached it, so I exited into the terminal and passed along the line of people holding up signs. None had my name on it. The person who was supposed to meet me was not there.

I walked around the large hall a couple of times, hoping I would spot him or he would spot me. I removed the saved Indian money from the last trip from its envelope, and went to a phone stall to try phoning him. I had a couple of different numbers for him, and the second one was answered by his friend at the office, who told me he had gone to the airport a couple of hours before. Why didn't I see him? Anyway, the friend told me how to take a cab to get to the office, and from there he would walk me to where I was going to stay.

The attendant at the phone stall then demanded 25 rupees. That struck me as rather expensive for two or three minutes, but he said it was for calling a mobile phone. It turns out he was cheating me--the phone I called was a land line.

Before I looked for the prepaid taxi booth, the passenger I had explained free software to told me that other people wait to meet passengers outside the terminal building. So I made one more circuit around the hall, calling out "Is anyone looking for Stallman?", then went out. He was waiting outside the building all the time. I would never have imagined that someone could be waiting outside when there were people waiting inside.

I arrived at the government guest house where I am staying, and checked in. I inflated my air mattress after discovering that the beds were absurdly hard. I then learned that the electric teapot, the soap, the towel, and the toilet paper promised by a sign at the reception desk would only be available in morning when the office was open. There was also no drinkable water. The room does not have a telephone, so we decided to walk to the office so I could do a mail transfer and make some decaf tea. It was actually a little cold, and I wore my jacket.

We talked a little more about whether I could find anything to eat, and he told me that the only possibility would be "biscuits". After a while I realized that word can have various meanings, so asked him to explain what a "biscuit" means. He found it hard to define such an everyday term, so I asked, "Are they sweet or not?" He said some of them were. So I realized he was using the British definition, which includes what are called cookies in the US. I like cookies. In fact, there is a common kind of cookie in India, a cream sandwich with elaichi spice cream in the middle, which I like very much. I said so.

While I did the transfer, he disappeared. I was told he had gone to the central railway station, not far away, to get the cookies. When he reappeared, he was riding a motorcycle.

I suggested, let's go use the motorcycle to go to the guest house--and first we could pass by the railway station so I could get a bottle of drinking water. We decided to go.

It turns out that the station was not really so close. It was a pleasant enough ride, for five minutes. Then we got near the entrance to the station and it turned into a madhouse.

I have been in Indian traffic before, I have ridden on the back of a motorcycle in India before, but I have never seen anything like the traffic at the entrance to the Delhi central railway station. Vehicles ranging from motorcycles to cars to buses were fighting to go through the same space in every possible direction. Nobody waited willingly for anyone else, so the only way to make progress was to be daring. When we first got there, for a few minutes nobody could move at all. Eventually we got into the station and I bought the water. Then we had to head back past the entrance, going the other way. We managed to do this by driving on the wrong side of the street for a few blocks--not that we were the only ones.

When I got back to the guest house, dawn was just breaking. I decided to sleep for a few hours, and set the alarm, then finished inflating my air mattress and prepared the bed. A bedside lamp was conveniently provided, attached to the wall, but it had no bulb. So I left the ceiling light on, read a little while to relax, then fell asleep with the light on.

After waking up, I learned that the kettle, the soap, the towel, the toilet paper, etc. are only for air conditioned rooms. For no obvious reason, they gave me an electric kettle anyway, which was handy. I had some soap in my suitcase, so I was able to wash, but I had to use the extra blanket (people who live here seem to feel comfortable when very warm) as a towel.

The only real event planned for my first stay in Delhi was an anti-patent event organized by Vandana Shiva. Most of the other people there were tried-and-true opponents of patenting seeds and medicine. I respect their fortitude, but unfortunately there were not many of them. They spoke of plans for farmers to start mass protests. I hope that it happens, because it looks like software developers are not organized to oppose software patents here. When the patent amendment was sprung on the public, just before the new year, officials said they intended to authorize only "embedded software patents", but the words that they have proposed are easily twisted to allow unlimited software idea patents.

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