Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is considered to be one of the most notable novelists of the 20th century. Born on 19 August, 1947 in Bombay, Rushdie was the only son among the four children of Anis Rushdie and Negin Butt. He graduated in History from King’s College, Cambridge. He won the Booker Prize in 1981 for his novel, Midnight’s Children. Some of his other noteworthy works include The Satanic Works, The Ground Beneath her Feet, Shame, Moor’s Last Sigh and many more. Free Radio is a short story in the book titled East West.
The protagonist of the story, Ramani, a young and handsome man unfortunately fell in love with a thief’s widow. The narrator comments that Ramani himself has turned into a thief before marrying the widow, because she made him rob himself. The decision taken by Ramani to ‘rob himself of his manhood’ does cohere with the introduction of the Free Radio which acts as an achievement as well as a loss.
For Ramani, the radio is of great importance. This can be seen in the text where he and the teacher are in a conversation. Ramani reminds him that a few years back a tailor named Laxman also received the radio from the Government and in no time all the people gathered to listen to it. He says, ‘it will be excellent to have.’ It is understood that the radio is like an idol to Ramani when he takes and starts imitating the radio broadcasts. He got lost in his dreams after listening to the radio broadcasts.
He was often flattered by the armband youths about his good looks and his comparison to Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachan and Shashi Kapoor, who were really popular in the seventies. Although the youths did this just because they wanted to take money from him, still Ramani used to imagine about his movie stardom. We can also see that Ramani puts all his trust on the radio. He puts aside all his worries and pain and focuses completely on the radio. The narrator’s statement is seen to be befitting, ‘Ram had poured into the idea of the radio all his worries and regrets about what he had done’.
The Free Radio Scheme was a scheme launched by the Government of India at that point of time to spread awareness about family planning in the country in the wake of the rising population. It aimed at maintaining population control in the country. Basically, the Govt. would gift a free transistor radio, if the person would conduct Nasbandi (Vasectomy). Ramani was joyous after hearing the news of the free radio and went on telling the whole town about it. As everyone knew that Ramani was a bit soft in his head, with his ambitions of being a movie star.
So, most of the people just nodded their head and said, “Yes Ram, it is nice for you”. But Ramani always insisted that it was true and did not think twice about what the people thought about him. The radio was of major importance to Ramani and he would do anything to get it. Another talking point in the text is the event of the vasectomy or as the narrator puts it ‘Nasbandi’. The thief’s widow wanted Ramani to go through the operation in order to gain her hand in marriage. She wants him to go through this operation as she does not want to conceive any more children as she already has five kids who are already starving for many days and she doesn’t want any more burden.
She refers to her kids as ‘brats’ which is considered to be of really cheap nature. During those days, vasectomy was considered to be really shameful and was not to be made public. In the text Ramani says “It is not so bad. It stops only babies and my wife doesn’t want any more babies. Also, it is in national interest and soon the radio will arrive”. Ramani is considered to be really foolish as he decided to go through the operation as he had thought about only what he gains i.e. the free radio. Post the operation, he would not only lose his manhood but would also face humiliation from people after realising that there was no free radio from the Govt. and that it was just a scam.
Lastly, we see the pain and agony that a person goes through after selling his manhood. Ramani is one of those many people who gave up his manhood for a mere material object, i.e. the free radio. The irony is that Ramani is doing all this in ‘national interest’. The radio is an inadequate compensation for an operation so shameful and disheartening as Vasectomy. No material object can match an operation of this seriousness. It is very disappointing to see Ramani go through such struggle and sacrificing everything that was in his way. In the end had no idea about the outcome of his actions.