Long queues, hurried footfalls, urgent changes in plans, snap-snap, snatch-snatch, adrenalin rush, and all survival techniques put to use are invariably found to co-habit wherever and whenever the word FREE comes into force. Just whisper the word ‘free’ and any place gets transformed into a war-zone. This is a global phenomenon created by brands to fool us all… and we love falling headlong into this abyss every time. With a smile.
Utter ‘free’ and you’ll get crushed under an avalanche of humans rushing in all directions without pausing even for a moment to ask: What? Where? When? The remaining W and the H that my professor at FMS introduced me to don’t even have that opportunity. Is any freebie hunter bothered about the reasons for something that someone has decided to give free? ‘Why’ is obviously out of reckoning. Even ‘how’ is a ridiculous question. Come on, just tear and grab. It is as simple as this. I’ve been to too many product launches and have seen media invitees rush out much before the last word has been said… and I don’t even need to say that the scene outside is similar to what happens outside a temple when someone emerges with a big container of laddoos. The winner grabbers of power-banks, bluetooth speakers, or some other such inane gadget then smile and ask each other: ‘Where next?’ I have often stood a few feet away from this madness and wondered at the power of this midget of a word ‘free’.
Yes, I know what happens when a big store announces a massive slash in prices or when BOGO is thrust at shoppers from every conceivable angle. The mind ceases to ask questions and succumbs to the pressure of temptations. The other day I saw a Bollywood movie where the heroine waves a handful of freshly cut grass and an aggressive looking billy goat follows her timidly to fall prey to her devious schemes. Forget the devious schemes of our Bollywood heroines for some time and just think of the way even humans can be lead to do anything by just one word whispered.
What happens when Arvind Kejriwal, the CM of Delhi, goes around shouting at every possible opportunity that metro and bus rides are going to be free for women? Forget the budgets available and how difficult this could be for the fiscal thinkers… I’m bothered about the ratios involved. Right now women make up a third of the total number of riders on the metro and nearly half of all those who travel by bus. There will obviously be more women rushing from one nowhere to another – ‘Arre bhai! Free hai na.’ Destinations, the wise have said, do not matter. It is always the journey that creates all the memories. Right? But the consequences can be debilitating.
Arvind Kejriwal hasn’t bothered himself yet with the consequences… I guess he has that intuitive feeling that he is anyway going to move out of this mess called Delhi. But this could be months away. For now, the ratio of women commuters going up would mean men being literally thrown out of the stations and bust stands. Come on, not every man has a 56 inch chest to thump and frighten away intruders. The right question that Kejriwal needs to ask himself is: Will just one compartment for women suffice? Obviously no. So every journey is going to become an affair to remember… for men.
Has anyone thought of what happens to destinations? I have a distinct feeling that India Gate has already complained of tachycardia and unsolicited tremors. Animals in the zoo are already learning how to cover their faces and hide in the open. Purana Qila, Humayun’s Tomb, and even the Red Fort have formed a union to restrict entry tickets only to those holding a valid metro card or a valid bus ticket. Even Specky, my wife is on the verge of deciding to find a new route home from her college where no monument or major market-place comes on the way. Free tickets for half the family simply mean that the number of people crossing roads carelessly and without a care for the poor traffic cop standing helplessly a few feet away, is going to go up many times.
The problem with our politicians is that they have only one word in their armory of solutions: free. So they encourage the nation’s farmers to take loans and be free not to return them. The ultra-rich business goons assume that this applies to them as well and so they simply fly away to London. No tech-backing and fewer people in our police force makes every sort of criminal think they’re free to do anything as the possibility of their getting caught is negligible. Our courtrooms have fewer judges and so lawyers are free to go on fleecing their clients for generations and some call their vacations abroad a gift of their dynastic right to fees for cases that their grandparents initiated. Pharma companies throw freebies left and right making doctors prescribe expensive brands and tests freely without thinking twice about the paying capacity of the patients. Teachers presume they are free to pass students if they agree to join their tutorials. This word ‘free’ is a disease.
On second thoughts, the word free is more than some miserable whining disease and is a protégé of Satan himself. This fellow from the netherworld is smart and at some point he added –dom and created another blockbuster architect of everything evil: freedom. Utter the word freedom and people assume that it is fine to vandalize anything in sight. Freedom means the right bunk classes, accept bribes, construct bridges that topple whimsically, sit on dharnas for no reason at all, and a zillion other things that have contributed to make this world a terribly wretched planet. My problem isn’t with freedom but with the word free being there.
I think it is time to let the word ‘free’ rest in peace. A much easier way to do this is to throw the R away in FrEE.
07 June 2019