There's nothing illegal about betting in Meghalaya because here it is indulged with the age-old sport of archery of the indigenous peoples. This form of betting is known as 'teer', and most likely has no parallel elsewhere in the world.
Teer involves a row of archers shooting at a circular target made of hay. The archers let fly a barrage of arrows into the target round by round. After each round, the number of teers or arrows is counted, ten at a time. The number of arrows that remain on the counting frame, after every 100 or 200 arrows are eliminated, is the lucky number for the day.
For those who have luck on their side, teer offers the maximum returns for the minimum of bets. Sample this - if you are able to 'forecast' the numbers that would eventually emerge in both the first and second rounds of the game, you get a handsome booty of Rs 4, 500 by betting just a rupee! And in the regular rounds, a rupee can at least fetch a hundred times as much.
And how does one zero in on a particular number? It's very interesting and bizarre. Teer players often interpret their dreams to place their bet on a particular number. For instance, if you dream of death you bet, surprisingly, on number 69. The figure is not even remotely connected to fantasy or eroticism in Meghalaya. It simply spells death. Similarly, the numbers 56 or 65 numerically express dreams involving amorous couples. "This is sheer belief. It has nothing to do with reality but the belief is so strong that people spend hours discussing and 'interpreting' their dreams before betting, " says Robin Kharmujai, a regular teer player.
"And there is no way of knowing what would be the lucky number. So interpreting dreams has become the order of the day, " says Raju Ghosh, who has been betting for years. "A man or a woman walking in your dreams means the number will be 11 and an omlette or just an egg is sure to be zero, " says Prashant Gupta, who has won many a bet simply by interpreting others' dreams.
"Dreams involving a football match mean 22 (the number of players), a banana is one, a deserted road is seven and a car is four (number of wheels), " explains Dominic Pathaw, the owner of an archery counter. "The number eight denotes a dream involving a fight, while a cat meowing or a dog barking is a four, " says Ravi Thapa, a local cabbie and a teer player.
The traditional betting touches all walks of life in the hill state and beyond, and most importantly it provides a livelihood for archers across the villages of Meghalaya. Several young men support their families by sitting through the day at teer counters and booking numbers for clients.
In fact, so popular is the betting that teer numbers are clandestinely sold in several other states of the Northeast, especially neighbouring Assam, with a parallel economy thriving on it. "I get Rs 200 a day, which takes care of my family. The less experienced ones initially get Rs 150 a day, " says Vicky, who works at a city counter. "It is a clean game based on sheer skill. There are no manipulations what-soever, " says Pherbok Laloo, the general secretary of the Khasi Hills Archery Sports Institute.
"It provides employment to several people, " he points out while overseeing the shooting at the Polo Grounds in Shillong. There are, of course, jackpots and other lucrative rounds to be betted on and won. But things haven't been as smooth as the arc of an arrow for teer in the face of new forms of betting like last-digit lotteries and most recently online lotteries. These new forms have had an impact, but the traditional sport has held its own against this invasion, for the simple reason that no other form of betting allows such unbelievably meagre amounts to wager, and that the people of the state are more at home with something they have lived with for generations. "Online business is good. But teer still remains the hot favourite with the people here, " says 'Bookie', the owner of an archery counter, who also runs an online lottery.
In fact, Shillong is one of the few places in India where archery is passionately played every day with teams of sharp shooters aiming for the target, made of bamboo and hay, twice every day at the Polo Grounds. The state government now wants to cash in on this tradition and local craze to popularise archery as a sport.
Recently, chief minister Mukul Sangma took up the traditional bow and arrow here to inaugurate the 34th National Junior Archery Championship in which over 500 participants from 30 states geared up to show their acumen in hitting the bull's eye. The five-day event saw teams and individuals contesting in various divisions - recurve, compound and Indian round.
Sangma has announced that Meghalaya will observe 2012 as the 'Year of the Youth' and the state government will develop an education system that would enable and empower boys and girls to take up sports as a career option. "Archery is our indigenous sport and I hope the chief minister will raise it to new heights, " says youth affairs minister Ampareen Lyngdoh.
Till then, one can safely snore and of course dream of better times. After all, dreams are not mere dreams in Meghalaya;they are veritable codes to the world of wealth, just waiting to be deciphered, what with thousands of arrowheads sharpened every day to prise open the pitcher of prosperity