Lotteries. A worthy cause!

I feel good today. Hopefully, my contribution of $100 towards the research of a deadly disease will save someone’s life. That’s the best part. On the other side, research into my lottery buying habits has begun.

If an electronic tracker got hold of my life record and played it back, she/he can trace the origins of my lottery buying habit to the impressionable age of 16. College years. The days when meagre pocket money rubbed against each other in tight jeans’ pockets.

The day I got hooked was a Tuesday. The year: 1985. I was on my way to the bus station, in the pouring rain. At the entrance was this guy wearing a lungi* hollering at the top of his lungs. ‘Today’s Draw! Today’s Draw!’ He was wearing a faded brown shirt and rolled a lit beedi [palm-rolled tobacco in tobacco leaf] from one end of his nicotine stained mouth to the other. In his hand he had a clip board with 10 stacks of lotteries from different parts of India. I had not even heard of most of them.

Toothless Lady Luck

‘Take a ticket. Take a ticket. You never know when Lady Luck will smile on you. It maybe during your bus ride ; maybe when having a tea’. maybe when walking past me; Later on don’t tell me, ‘Adbul why didn’t you sell me that ticket?’ Abdul, I presumed, was looking directly at me.

The pessimistic side of my mind took hold of the reins and steered me past him. I reached the bus slot I was supposed to take; it was empty. I turned around and almost bumped into Abdul. ‘Take one ticket.’ He thrust the colourful and wonderfully printed tickets into my face. The best ones were glossy and were arranged in between the less attractive ones. Within 5 mts, without much pressure from Abdul, I took my first lottery ticket. My first ‘prized’ carrot**.

All through the one hour journey to my grandma’s I looked out of the bus and searched behind trees, houses, and clouds for that elusive smile – that of Dame Luck. A few old toothless women smiled back at me from various bus stops. Countless lottery tickets later I stopped buying lottery tickets.

Fast forward. Years later, after various ups and downs in my life and career, I dug up the roots of my old habit. This time, the venue was in the Middle East. The odds were attractive [one in a thousand], the stakes were high [$1 million], and the price of the ticket steep.

The cause this time was selfish. If I won it would only go towards lining my pockets. Since the price was disgustingly steep, tickets were bought in groups of ten or less. From odds of ‘one in a billion!’ in India to odds of one in a thousand in Dubai seemed very fair. Countless tickets later, the habit died down again.

Behavioural pattern

The behavioural pattern shifted continents and emerged on the other side of the Atlantic. We migrated to Canada. There is no dearth of lotteries and causes over here. My habit was, by now, a ticking clock with no alarm settings. I practised with the smaller lotteries like the Super 7 and Lotto 649, getting ready for the big one. So once a month on an average, I’d go, on my way from work, to the lotto store strategically positioned at the entrance of the subway.

Many a time I had caught the woman behind the counter looking at me and thinking, ‘Will he, won’t he?” Usually, I wait for the big prizes. Then, I’d meticulously punch six or seven numbers [according to the lottery] and give it to her, who’d tender my change, ticket and wish me all the luck in the world. And I’d walk away from her, light-hearted, down the subway escalator sighing. By the time I settled down in the seat, dreams of cars and houses will be lulling me to sleep.

Then the big one came up. Research for this-and-that lotteries. Pricey at $100. But hey! Look at the prizes! An Early Bird prize! Three, not one, $1 million prizes, and countless cars and smaller prizes. Just calculate the odds – 1 in 15 chance of winning! Who could pass this by? I did. For three years, in a row.

All this time the carrots Fate planted on this side of the Atlantic were growing up. Sometime in December 2003, Fate announced the ripening of the first carrot. I bit hard. I called up and bought my first $100 ticket telling my conscience that it was for a good cause. [By now I’ve learnt to weave my conscience around my little finger!]

So the next thoughts were ˜What approach should I take when they called to congratulate me on winning the Early bird prize? I decided that I’d appear nonchalant. Thank you for your call. I will definitely think of contributing a portion of my winnings for more good causes.” Furiously I penned down responses in case I forgot ; what if the nerves choked my voice.

True donor

They announced the first round of winners. The Early Bird flew past my 15th floor window northbound. Migrating to luckier pockets. There were still three one million prizes to be won. And cars to fill a multi-storey parking lot. So we plodded along, past the New Year which I spent in bed conserving energy for the day when we won the one million. I had, by now, specialised in being nonchalant. The date of the big draw arrived. We kept the phone free, the cell phone turned on throughout the night. We even had a lit candle by the bedside when we slept at night, so that we don’t have to grope for the phones. [The draw was said to take place at midnight.]

Next morning there was a four page pullout with newspapers listing the winners. The first page did not have my name. Neither did the second, the third or the fourth. 210,010 people bought the tickets. 210,009 people won something or the other. I told myself that I am the only true contributor towards charity. I felt really great!

Among the news pages of the main section, I found something else. Lottery for another worthy cause. The odds here are 1 in 12. Even better! I am reducing the odds. See!

* Lungi is a graphic piece of cloth worn below, or under, the belt till it covers the ankles
** I continued to bite into juicy carrots throughout my life. My eyesight is still as bad as ever!

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