Ours has become a land of freebies. I don’t think there was anything of this sort from the time the earth was formed and life started sprouting except the God given gift to all living things, free air to breathe and water for drinking and cleaning and fruits and vegetables to eat, all for free even without a hidden agenda or “terms and conditions apply” (as long as we, the human beings do not pollute them). Down the ages, these precious commodities are also becoming a sought after things “for a price”.

Ever since globalization and consumerism virus emerged from the dawn of the 20th century, we, in India comfortably accepted these nonchalantly. The so called “technological growth” in almost all walks of life has become a part of our life like breathing; we became a slave to it. It became a status symbol in every nuclear family.

It has reached an unbelievable proportion to procure anything and everything that is “latest” and added with a freebie.

The’ freebies’ fever or the idea must have clicked in the brain from gambling dens and later from casinos,” pay and win double” to attract people to fall into it .Slowly it has spread its fangs on whatever it could feel and see.  There was a time where cinemas were screened with the same idea. One ticket for two movies. In fact the second movie will be thrilling with a hero of your liking. The super speed at which mass production in industries has lead to lack of space to store them. This has forced the makers to dispose the goods. They found that customers   can be lured by all sorts of gimmicks. It has reached the food front also. Buy one pizza and other one absolutely free. Thrusting one inside itself is a Herculean task and for the second we have to find someone who has not eaten already!  Buy one family pack ice cream and one pack of the same size free!  wah! wah! wah! The list seems to be never ending. The freebie trend flies in leaps and bounds. Even air tickets are sold on the freebie basis with certain conditions in asterix mark very poorly visible and in very small prints. May be it is not economical for them to offer as ‘one for one’ as they have to give free trips to so many VIPs and their coteries out of tax payers money!  Now there is a talk in the air that the seats can be removed and hanging rods and holding saddles can be provided so that more passengers can be accommodated. A wonderful idea indeed that is already in existence in trains and buses and long hours of standing has become a daily routine and part of their life style. Those standing in one leg can be given a free ticket! And those standing inside the toilet, a free return ticket with two scented face mask! Very cheap airline for the masses!

 Use and throw theory and the freebie gimmick, both are taught by Chinese and westerners for their economic improvement. China and Taiwan are in the forefront in the electronic media with everyday upgradation of the gadgets and offering freebies. We have become a slave of buyers from them.

In India, especially, festivals are plenty added with sentiments. This made a paradigm shift in boosting the selling of consumer items. Then was born the freebies and discounts and exchanges.

 Please note the exchange mela is a freebie for the seller. The old items are sold for a scrap and the money is a profit for him. Of course, the other side of it is, we enjoy a new one for few years as their life span is also limited. Again’ free’ services (conditions apply).

 Now freebies have touched every field of activity. Take the case of dresses, buy one, and take one free. Slowly it became buy 2 take 2.  Every item is attached with a freebie with it. Great Combo offers are also part of it.

Freebies have entered into politics as well. Prior to election, every party starts vying with one another to pour out the freebies. Now, before election itself, the ruling party pours out freebies in the shadow of helping the poor and the needy. Really a fight to get a chit from “authorized men”, long days of wait and influence are all needed to get those freebies. Still many are disappointed, partly because they are the fragile type or those who have no influence. Some crooks in politics even sell these enmasse to other states as it is a free freebie to them.

 A new twist in political freebies. Overnight transfer of freebies in darkness by invisible men! Gone beyond the imagination of H. G. Wells and his Invisible Man!! It was heard in whisper that somebody has opened an academy giving training to some special type of monkeys to perform this task of delivering freebies without damage to escape from the “eagle eyes” of the Khaki. This academy is attracting even foreigners with a freebie attached! Wahl!  Just like colleges abroad attracting students! Now to get those monkeys some freebies are offered to the catchers. One tailor has already made a jacket to look like a monkey with a catchy slogan: “Be a monkey to catch a monkey” with a guarantee that monkeys cannot tear it. Hope John Wayne and his group of “Hatari” will not accept this offer!

I think the only field so far not infected with freebies is the medical field, especially by the medicine manufacturing companies in the selling of medicines. Though medicines with a seal of “free sample and not for sale” are distributed by the medical reps to the doctors, we all hope that the life savers  are strictly adhering to these norms  and remembering the Hypocritic oath and these samples are gifted only to the poor and the needy who approach them for treatment . At this point I have to appreciate some doctors who are not charging for every sitting and their fee is nominal. They really give an “absolutely free service”.

But, looking at the ever increasing clinical labs and the testing labs with sophisticated medical equipments, mostly imported, and the attractive testing packages they offer under the jargon “comprehensive medical checkup/ total medical checkup etc; with an attractive price tags ending with the numeral 999, raises a doubt in the mind of the patient to check for any freebies hidden somewhere in it. Individually analyzed, the total price will be at a higher level. These price tags send a shiver in the spine of those patients who do not have a medical backup during their service or after retirement. For them, these numbers are nothing but a reflection of apocalyptic number and stands before them like the ghost hanging upside down in the Vikramaditya and vethal stories.

 Sometimes the hidden freebies look like ghosts which are of no use, but will not leave us. For example the “gift vouchers” totally from another shop which will be in Arctic or Antarctic. From the snigger expressed by the girl at the counter while putting the bill and the gift voucher, one with previous experience can very well understand the gimmick behind this. There will not be an item that will meet our daily needs for that price if at all we happen to visit that shop. Again beware of the microprint hidden under the colour! For validity! If one gets it on the date of expiry, he must run at breakneck speed to get it, if at all.

In the field of education also the freebies are slowly entering like the camel entering the Arab’s tent. The freebie term here is scholarship aka reducing the fee as per the grade of mark. This we see in the ever mushrooming computer academies. Slowly laptops and palm size tablets  have entered as pencils and rubber will not find a place here.

All said and done, most of the freebies attached to the main item purchased for a price will not match or find any immediate use or rather unusable or even redundant item. One ad goes like this, for every two radial tyres, one steam iron free. The man who has come to buy the tyres will be already fretting and fuming and cursing the corporation for the pot holes and ditches partly filled with sharp cornered stones that have caused the damage to the tyres. If the shop man had offered two tubes with it, he would have had a little relief. Again there are so many funny items that go. Water heater with four pencils as free, Inverters with a free torch lighter without cells of course. Here the seller has a little brain in offering the torch, so that the buyer can search for the inverter itself in darkness, if that also fails. The torch lighter itself is so small that the effort in searching for it in darkness will also be  of anybody’s guess.

Now it is the season of Deepavali. Pyrotechnic plays an important role here. Crores roll out as crackers, rockets and all sorts that can be operated from a kid to an old man. Let some money from haves go to the have-nots who toil day and night in the hazardous environment to make these. The Dhamaakkaa has begun in full strength. Buy one box and one box free. He has already made profit in the first box itself!

 When I saw the glittering ad of the freebie offers of deepavali, my memory flashed with a real spark brighter than  lightning. Last year, my grandson pestered me for a box of assorted crackers and I dragged on till 2 days to go as someone had told me that the shop will offer at a throw away price with free-bies to windup their business . Some or other I managed to hold till then and finally took him to the shop. My idea was to go for some simple things as my house was small and the fear of fire hazards. My grandson searched on all the shelves in the shop and took out a very glittering box displaying pictures of all sorts of crackers. I casually asked for any freebies with it and the shop man promptly stretched out two long sticks coated with black gum type substance. When I asked what it is, my hyperactive grandson told it is to fire the crackers from a distance. I really admired him in my mind that he is going to be a real fire safety officer in future. The price tag really burnt my purse with a bang when I opened it even before those crackers burst. I would have been a little bit relieved  had there been a freebie scheme ”for  one month pension, one month pension absolutely free from all the taxes”. Both of us returned home reading the list of items and their quantities.

The D day came, and we were all well prepared to blast the crackers. Grandson was very happy to start with small items which worked wonders. Some items were of lesser quantity than as per the list attached.  Then started the real drama. Majority of them did not function as what they ought to do and many phissed out halfway.  Some or other everything was finished except one item, the SNAKE. Grandson started to explain the special characteristic feature of this item. I was also reading the details from the thrown out wrapper. In the wrapper it was written, the matchbox accompanying this item is absolutely free. I thought for a moment, I got something as a bonus for the amount spent.

We created space for it by moving all the chairs, tables and other items from the hall to operate according to the instructions. With very great care and dextirity, my grandson took out the first match stick and tried to light at the end of the tail where a special bullet type capsule was hanging like a torpedo in a war plane. The match stick got burnt out. Everyone encouraged him to repeat it. Again the same fate. His dad tried the third time. No effect. All felt that it may be cold and a little heating up will do the work. Everyone tried their luck in turns, but went futile. At one stage, it made a hiss with a little smoke. Everyone became alert that it will twist and move like a real snake. Grandson got impatient and checked the condition by turning it upside down with great care using the long stick the shop man had given. Everyone inspected and found there is the capsule still hanging in half burnt condition. The spark of hope lighted in everyones heart. Trials continued unabated. In the process all the sticks got exhausted and we all lost hope in its success theory. My wife murmured “only item with fully operational was the matchbox and it could have been used in the kitchen for one month free”.

As usual we had our eateries ready and we all enjoyed.  After that I was glued to my newspaper. In the meantime, my grandson brought the outside wrapper which was still glittering. He showed me an important remark made in it in very small font that only the computer can magnify. I read it out with my magnifying glass which I use to read the fine prints in the paper and share applications. It read as “If any of the items is found not working, please bring them back to the shop from where it is bought in the original condition, and they shall be replaced for new, absolutely free”.  What a brain for the maker and seller!

My grandson forced me to accompany him to the shop and I agreed. I did not want to spoil his mood and the enthusiasm. Alas! That shop was found closed. But he was kind enough to fix a board with a name and a mobile number attached. When we tried it and someone else answered that it is a wrong number, we tried once again thinking we had made a mistake in the number. It worked in the same way but with a harsh and angry tone.  We left the site and returned. I could feel the restlessness in my grandson. In the meantime a ring tone alerted me in my mobile. The charges for the call are….. and your balance is…… I realized then it is not for free. In a disturbed mind, he gave the glittering wrapper to me On seeing it again, suddenly  my mind flashed back to my school days and the great Shakespeare’s famous line “ all that glitters is not gold” from the story Merchant of Venice. I wondered how to teach my grandson the meaning of this line when he lives in Aladdin’s wonder world with all freebies and fantasies.

As soon my grandson reached home, with a bit of anger, he heaped up all the  burnt and the unburnt items and set fire to them by taking a long piece of paper rolled like a rod and the real firework happened. On hearing the noise of crackers breaking and flying  in all direction with Newtonian colours,everyone rushed out from their work and  enjoyed the real thrill of pyrotechny.It was a real feast to the eyes and a real Deepavali!  Again one thing was boiling in in everyones heart as to what happened to the snake. When searched in the ashes we found the snake, totally unmoved even by an inch!


Dated 27th Oct 2013


The deepavali episode can have a separate heading:  SNAKE IN THE CRACKER BOX AND THE FREEBIES


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