“Rupees 100 on 7,” said the suit clad gentleman. Well groomed, dark complexioned, around 35 years old; he was handsome, with a kind and happy demeanour.
I looked at Arjun, who was co-manning the gambling stall with me. The payout on 7 was 3:1 and we had collected Rs 500/ so far; we weren’t worried about a possible house bust from the Rs 100/- bet, but we were worried that the gentleman had already lost around Rs 100/- since the start of the fair just 15 min back. So far he had bet on under and over 7, but never 7. It seemed to us that he was desperate to recover his losses.
“Sir, that is a large amount. You have lost a lot of money already,” said Arjun.
The gentleman looked squarely at Arjun, and then at me. He then confidently said, “Aata! (It will come!)”
Other bets placed, I tossed the dice. Five and One!
The gentleman had lost another Rs 100/. Arjun collected the bets from the table. As he picked up the Rs 100/- I looked at the gentleman and said, “Jaata! (Gone!)”
“Aata! Aata! (It will come! It will come!),” the gentleman assured me, patted me on my back, and strode away.
It might sound like a trivial amount today, but Rs 100/ wasn’t a trivial amount back in 1973. At least not for us cadets at the Air Force Academy in Dundigal, near Hyderabad.
Arjun and I had been detailed to man the gambling stall at the fair organized by the Air Force Wives Welfare Association (AFWWA) at the cadets’ mess. Our training on Harvard T6G trainer aircraft had ended and the training staff at the Academy, aware of the proclivity of the cadets to get rambunctious at the end of the course, had teamed up with the AFWWA local chapter to organize the fair at the Cadets Mess. Besides the Air Force personnel and their families at the Academy, select civilians from Hyderabad and Secundrabad had been invited to the ‘mela’ aimed at keeping the cadets under a lid over the weekend, and more nobly to collect funds for a new classroom at the local Air Force school.
“Rupees 200 on 7,” the gentleman said returning half an hour later, a smile on his kind and friendly face. House collections were well over Rs 1,000/ by then, so once again there was no problem on that count.
“Sir, please,” I said. “The odds are stacked against you. You will loose again!
“Aata! Aata! (It will come! It will come!),” he said, a twinkle in his eyes.
I looked at Arjun once again, concerned over how the man was wasting his money. Arjun shrugged and threw the dice.
Six and three! The gentleman looked unperturbed. He had been talking to a friend and barely seemed to notice the adversarial roll of dice.
As I picked up his Rs 200/; I once couldn’t hold myself back. “Sir, phir se jaata,” I said not caring to hide my annoyance.
Going by the quality of his double breasted suite, he appeared to be a rich businessman.
“Kahan jaata? (Where will it go?),” he challenged tossing his forehead back, arching his eyebrows and smiling. “Aata! Aata!”
“Fool,” I thought to myself, as he walked away with his friend.
The December sun had set over half an hour back, the lights had been switched on, there was music playing. Disappointingly, there was no one on the dance floor. Well there were folks on the dance floor, but no one that interested me. Okay, what I really mean is that she was not on the dance floor! I mean the Bengali girl, the Senior Met officer’s daughter…perhaps…I don’t remember. I had spotted her doing the rounds with her friends but she hadn’t looked at our gambling stall. Girls don’t gamble! Even if she had looked at our gambling stall, she wouldn’t have “seen” me. She didn’t know me! I had never summoned the courage to introduce myself to her, so concerned had I remained over doing well in my training. Nevertheless, I cursed my luck for being assigned a gambling stall. Arjun had a steady girlfriend in Mumbai, so he had no such issues.
“Rupees 500 on 7,” he said. God! He was back again. I couldn’t believe it.
If I had known the word then, I would have thought, “How can a man be such a loser!”
“Sir please,” I remonstrated. “You are wasting your money.”
He insisted, and lost the Rs 500.
“Sir, bola aapko, nahin aata! (I told you it will not come!),” I said in exasperation, bitterly wondering hy he couldn’t spend the money on his wife and kids.
“Aata! Aata! Kahin nahin jaata,” he said, smiled, and strolled off with his friend.
The bar was open. We cadets’ were only allowed beer, but guests could buy hard liquor. The next time I saw Aata (as Arjun and I had named him), the gentleman was drunk, or so I thought. He wasn’t swaying…but I was sure that was because he was leaning heavily on the table, resting his weight on his right elbow, his chin cupped in the palm of his hand.
With his left hand he cockily placed 10 Rs 100/- notes on 7 and said, “Rupees 1000 on 7.”
“That is too large a bet sir,” I said alarmed. I looked at Arjun.
“It’s all right Kuku,” said Arjun.
I backed off. The man lost!
He bet Rs 1,000/ at least three times again that evening and lost every time! My concern for his losses ebbed as the evening progressed. It takes all sorts to make this world, I realized. Sensible people and incorrigible gamblers!
The fair closed. Dinner was served and after a while the civilian guests started to leave. Arjun and I were grabbing a late bite, having submitted our substantial earnings from the gambling stall to the accounts officer, who part timed as treasurer that day.
“Hello!” we heard someone say.
We turned towards our hailer. It was Aata!
His gait was steady. He certainly wasn’t drunk. His smile was endearing. He was happy, genuinely happy! I would have taken a liking for him had he not been such a gambler!
“Thank you,” he said extending his hand, first to Arjun and then to me.
“We are sorry, you lost so much money,” Arjun said shaking his hand.
When I shook hands, I couldn’t resist saying, “Dekha, sab jaata! (See, you lost all!)
“Kahan jaata? Air Force ko jaata? Air Force hamari jaan bachata. (Where did it go? It went to the Air Force?. Air Force saves our lives!)”
“Ham bola na, Aata! Aata! (I told you. It will come! It will come!)”
He strode away leaving Arjun and I stunned.
Damn! I thought!
I didn’t meet the Bengali girl that night, but I sure as hell met a patriot! I don’t remember the girl’s face, but I do, the gentleman’s.
Vijainder K Thakur.
The prodigal returns! Remember Kuku? He does us proud with his writings. I was wondering why he didn’t name his piece ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’? I got the answer. For those who don’t know and those interested, he runs a blog called Delightful Takes.