The Free Radio By Salman Rushdie

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For my Individual Oral Presentation I have chosen the short story “The Free Radio” in the book “East West” by Salman Rushdie. The various stories in East West are largely similar in their extravagant and far fetched plots however “The Free Radio” reflects a true occurrence in Indian History.

A symbol is something such as an object, picture, written word, sound, or particular mark that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention. For example, a red octagon may stand for “STOP”.

In “The Free Radio”, the importance and focus on the free radio from the protagonist and narrator results in readers being able to observe the various symbols which the free radio adopts and thus allows readers to see beyond its literal meaning to its intended symbolism for better understanding of the text and the messages in which it holds.

Young, handsome Ramani- the protagonist of the story was unfortunate enough to fall in love with the “Thief’s Widow” The introduction of the decision Ramani made to “Rob himself of his manhood” comes hand in hand with the introduction of the Free Radio.

The Enormous Radio Summary

Firstly, To Ramani the Radio directly represents a symbol of achievement and loss. It represents a memorandum to the pain he has suffered, the manhood he has lost however it more importantly signifies the widow’s hand in marriage which he has gained.

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One can also see that the “free radio” symbolises is important as an object of escapism for Ramani in order to forget the pain and anguish of the nasbandi as he counts on the radio to “compensate” him for the operation. As the narrator aptly mentions ” Ram had poured into the idea of the free radio all his worries and regrets about what he had done … f the dream were to die he would be forced to face the full gravity of his crime against his own body. ”

The radio provides Ramani an outlet to believe in, we see this in his actions of mimicking radio broadcasts with his hand cupped to his ear etc. The free radio can also be noted as a symbol of the constriction, restriction of sex. , as mentioned earlier the free radio is only an issue with the attraction Ramani had to the “Thief’s widow” “Soon after the dream radio was first mentioned , Ramani and the “Thief’s widow” were married , and then I understood everything.

The narrator understood that the “Thief’s widow” required Ramani to undergo this operation for her hand in marriage. As we all know reproduction is a divine thing, imperative to the continuation of the human race, the old widow is seen to corrupt this as the narrator suggests that she is starving her children for days for a simple rickshaw ride. Her “five brats” seems too large, vulgar a number of seemingly unloved children taken care of by one widow of “vile nature”.

If one stretches ones imagination perhaps Salman Rushdie is suggesting to be wary of women, depicting the dire consequences that foolish men face , just as Ramani had to face nasbandi because of his limited perspective , only looking at what he had to gain – the hand of the “thief’s widow” where on hindsight he lost not only his manhood but much of his sanity as he deceived himself with the new fantasy of the free radio, and with that , a humiliating act which Ramani put up publicly which simply ended in further misery with the realisation that there was no radio.

The free radio is a perfect symbol of delusion and self deception, the ability to think clearly is instrumental to separating humans from lower forms of animals, a failure in our system however is demonstrated in Ramani where he adjusts his thinking so much that he deceives himself for almost a year “His young body was being poured into that space between his ear and his hand… by a mighty and impossible act of will. Once he receives his radio everything would be made worth while.

However one does not dispute Ramani’s happiness during that year when his “rare quality of total belief in his dreams” allowed him to lead a happy life-” A happiness which could not be explained by the supposed imminence of the transistor” However in the end, this further humiliation contributed to his decision to leave the village.

It is also interesting to note that with his departure, he follows his original true dream and ambition of being a bollywood star in the city and how this dream is juxtaposed against the pseudo fantasy of the free radio, however this bollywood star ambition can also be interpreted as comparable to the free radio , a further assault on the inability Ramani has to embrace reality and deal with failure. “I remember… the huge mad energy which he had poured into the act of conjuring reality. ”

From the delusional effects the free radio has and noting the context at the time we can infer that the free radio has been used as a tool to criticize the Government , as mentioned earlier the white caravan and nasbandi, family planning was genuine and was going around India at the time that Rushdie wrote the story, the encouragement of men to give up their manhood in national interest, granting free radios in appreciation, often times these were empty promises of politicians vying for power.

Through the use of this policy and the free radio, Rushdie demonstrates the utter humiliation and suffering these men have to endure after sacrificing their manhood in “national interest”, Rushdie allows readers to see the incompatibility of the free radio as compensation for an operation so humiliating and daunting as nasbandi. Through Rushdie’s use of diction and utilisation of an elderly narrator, readers feel disappointed as men like Ramani seemed to have been hoodwinked, deceived into taking part in something they did not want to and had little idea of the consequences of their actions.

Another point to suggest a criticism of politics and the government are the semi political “armband youths” who flatter Ramani initially but eventually show their true self “Ram was frogmarched out by his drinking-chums” Ram is seen to foolishly trust and believe in these men who filled his head with dreams and in the end, just as he is with the free radio symbolising the government, he is forsaken, betrayed.

Salman Rushdie also suggests that now, nobody adheres to advice from the elderly. This is seen in the beginning “But who listens to the wisdom of the old today? ” The choice of utilising Teacher Sahib as the narrator is key to us seeing his perspectives and how if only Ramani listened to teacher Sahib -the elderly, everything would be fine as he slowly gained in stature and wisdom. Even the name of the narrator – teacher Sahib suggests that he knows more and is a respectable figure.

The free radio acts as a catalyst for his spite for the thief’s widow and we see all his negative feelings towards her and works as a base for readers poor first impression of the thief’s widow, but more importantly the radio, symbolically negative allows readers to see the true care and concern teacher Sahib has for Ramani as only he is against the free radio and its terrible nature. This further encourages readers to trust and believe in teacher Sahib and understand the message being suggested that respecting and listening to the generally wise and experienced elderly is the correct path to safety.

Also towards the end of the story “Maybe the views of the old can be discounted now, and if that’s so , let it be. ” This martyr like sentence garners pity and sympathy readers have towards teacher Sahib who although tried his best could not save the foolish Ramani who refused to listen and heed warnings from him. This again emphasises the point of respecting the elderly. In conclusion, the free radio may seem simplistic in the story, a mere gift from the Government, but in reality it has been developed extensively .

Through diction , sentence structure , and most importantly the use of the free radio as a symbol in moving the plot along , the free radio not only represents the delusional sentiments of Ramani , the wickedness of the widow but these symbols it takes on of escapism , achievement and loss , restriction of sex , delusion , deception all work together to emphasise the author’s messages of importance of being realistic , wary of the consequences of ones actions, negligence of the opinions of the aged and most importantly the criticism of the government.

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The Free Radio By Salman Rushdie. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

The Free Radio By Salman Rushdie
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