Rushdie’s story The Free Radio presents an interesting take on freedom and homelands, and more succinctly, the affect a lack of an original homeland has on creating new ones. This story presents us with an interesting case, as it is told from the point of view of an older man, about a younger man, who has no parents. Often we talk about home as being with the ones you love and almost everyone can identify some feeling of home with their parents. What is Rushdie saying about freedom and the importance of parentage, our original homeland, in shaping our newfound homelands?
Throughout the teacher (the narrator) expresses his belief that if Ramani’s parents were alive he would be on a different path. He even takes it upon himself to interject and attempt to make things right by confronting the thief’s widow and asking her to cease relations with Ramani. His effort is ultimately futile, and he lobbies his case no further. Clearly the teacher believes Ramani needs guidance, offering it to him whenever he can. There are also junctures where Ramani seeks guidance from the teacher, exposing his need for parenting. In one scene the teacher talks of how the widow is depriving Ramani of his manhood. Deprivation is almost always an indicator of strangled freedoms, and here is no different.
Ultimately this story is about a boy without a home. Eventually he seems to find one, but is it the home that he really wants? He uses his unfiltered freedom, unhampered by parentage, to find his home, but is it truly his home? The narrator makes it seem like Ramani is a victim of exploitation at the hands of an enthralled widow. Unable to cope without a homeland, and much too young to know how to deal with such an experience, Ramani places his homeland in the radio. What his real home becomes is the home of the widow’s husband, a home left behind. Ramani’s entrapment in a home that isn’t uniquely his is the real tragedy of this story.
The letter at the end is indicative of his entrapment, but are we supposed to take these claims at face value or are we meant to question the verisimilitude of his predicament? The teacher’s skepticism, like all skepticism, seems slightly misplaced, but I can’t help but agree with him. The letter speaks of wealth and happiness, but the teacher’s comments in the final paragraph on the boy’s “huge mad energy he poured into conjuring reality” (32). Is this just another conjured fantasy to fill the void left by a lack of homeland? The fact that he chooses to write to the teacher also shows his lack of homeland. With his parents deceased, he has no one to turn to. Although he shares an intimate relationship with the teacher, both of them feel uncomfortable taking it to the level of a parent-child relationship.
At the end we are left with a tragic, sympathetic view of a boy who wasn’t able to build himself a true home. His unfiltered freedom ultimately destroyed itself, leaving him trapped in a place that he shouldn’t be. Unfortunately this type of thing is all too real and happens all too often in our own world. People deserted by their homes often find reconciliation in entrapment, and forge new homes that aren’t nearly comparable to what was or could’ve been.