Friday, June 16, 2017


The open air café in the IIM Ahmedabad opened in 2004 has a funky and intriguing name: TANSTAAFL. It was christened so by Prof Deodhar, who was inspired by the aphorism 'There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch' and used the acronym formed by its initial letters. (Does it serve as a warning to students that spending too much leisurely time at the 24-hour café may come at the cost of poor grades in classes?)

Till recently, I was under the impression that this famous line was coined by the the Nobel-laureate and economist Milton Friedman, for, that is the title of his 1975 best-seller. It transpires that he was impressed by the veracity of a statement which appeared in a 1966 sci-fi work by Robert Heinlein that he enshrined it as its title.

In the novel 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress', Manuel, a computer engineer and protagonist of the story, tells fellow Loonies (people on the Moon, a colony of the earth, who are exploited by the people on the Earth) that unless they sacrifice something, they cannot achieve freedom. In this context, he utters his now-popular expression that TANSTAAFL is derived from.

It is said that the expression 'free lunches' originated in the 19th century in the US bars which laid out lunches free of cost to regulars. These lunches are now a thing of the past, but the package of most hotels these days includes a free breakfast buffet that guests hardly pass up. I know many who, on their way out after a sumptuous repast, snaffle an apple or a muffin. Their logic is simple: the cost of the breakfast is anyway built into the room tariff. Which means TANSTAAFB!

Coming to think of it, is there anything in this world that comes free?

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