Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 17, December 16-31, 2018

The Art of Free-Loading

by R.V. Rajan

It was a regular meeting of our Rotary Club at a star hotel. Members started arriving early to do justice to the High Tea that precedes all our meetings. Usually during our meetings we get visitors from other clubs to make up their attendance. On this particular day, we saw a well-dressed, educated man walking in and proceeding straight to the buffet table. He was filling his plate with a generous helping of every item on the table. When some members tried to find out the Club to which he belonged, he replied that he was from Trichy but was evasive when we tried to probe him further. He was obviously a gate-crasher, or free-loader as I call them, who shamelessly visit meetings in star hotels with the sole purpose of having free meals. In my long experience of managing scores of meetings and conferences I have come across many such despicable characters. I have an uncanny knack of spotting such guys, however well dressed and sophisticated they may look.

I am a member of a book club in Chennai which organises at least two meetings every month in a star hotel preceded by High Tea. A large number of members would turn up at such meetings, including many non-members/free-loaders, who not only filled their plates with generous helpings of items on the table but some of them also filled carry bags with them. To counter this menace, the Club decided to issue membership cards which the members had to show at the entrance to the meeting venue before they were admitted. Though the free-loaders were prevented from attending meetings with this step by the Club, it couldn’t stop a few paying members from behaving like free-loaders. You see, these guys, who were not genuine book-lovers, found out that by paying the annual membership fee, which probably covered the cost of 5 or 6 meetings, they could get free meals for 25 meetings. Very good value for money.

Free-loaders at marriages are very common. When suspicious organisers question them they get away by saying that they belong to the girl’s party or the boy’s party depending on who asks them the question. But an incident that I witnessed at a friend’s son’s wedding at a well known marriage hall floored me. While I was having my meal, sitting in the pandhi, I noticed an old couple with two big tiffin carriers filling the containers with the items on the serving table. A few servers from the catering team were even helping them. When a suspicious family member from the girl’s party tried to question them, they replied that they were taking the items to serve some old people of the boy’s family in the rooms as they were not in a position to come down. When the family member tried to probe them further, they realised that they were cornered. They just rushed out with whatever they had taken from the table. It was a sad sight to see an old couple indulging in such a cheap act. I felt that they would not have barged in without the collusion of someone in the catering team.

I think free-loaders are more despicable than the beggars we see on roads! – (Courtesy: Adyar Times and republished in Rajan’s Random Reflections.

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