Luck’s Not Always a Lady


Luck’s Not Always a Lady

Illustration: Namaah

By the time the boat dropped me off at the floating Casino Royale in Goa, it was already dark. I went straight to the poker room. Its familiar odour of humans trapped in an air-conditioned room for hours on end, reminded me of how magnificently I’d lost the last time I was here. The hangover of the loss followed me to the table. As I sat down to play, something seemed off. I got up. As a professional poker player, you have no choice but to learn to trust your instinct.

Downstairs, the roulette wheel felt hot. I opened with ten grand, all on straight-up bets – 2, 9, 19, 29, 32, 36. The numbers came to me as if transmitted from the universe. I watched as the white ball did its manic whirl. The exact moment that it nestled into the groove at 36, I looked up from the table. A woman in a green sari with a delicate collarbone had just arrived. Of all the boats in the world, this perfect 36 had to come aboard mine.

Now, a word here about gambler superstition. Just like gut instinct, it is a real, palpable thing. I know men who play only facing the south, others who wear the same stinky, but lucky shirt night after night, and yet others who play with fingers shining with shani rings. My superstition is not shirts or shani – my superstition is seduction. The last time, I’d seduced the lovely, buxom Puja and lost the bank. The universe seemed to be making the deal clear– a spell of luck at the cost of a fuck. Tonight, I had to make a choice.

I steered clear of the lady and over the next hour of spinning, I picked up two more straight-up bets and a smattering of combinations, and my measly ten grand soon become a lakh. The lady in green, who’d had a couple of gins by now, became friendlier and introduced herself. Leela was not having a good night. She kept picking the numbers that I was avoiding. It was the opposite of the chameleon strategy. The bantering went down, the gin and tonics went up, and then she didn’t even look my way. That worked fine for me. As alluring as Leela was, I was going to steer clear. My eye was firmly on the ball.

After midnight and 13 straight rounds of winning, I bid goodbye to the lovely Leela with a heavy heart, but a heavier wallet. I had added ₹2.4 lakh to my kitty, and for once, I wanted to quit while I was ahead. As I turned around after encashing my chips, I came face to face with a distraught and tipsy Leela. She was completely out of money, she said, and asked if I could help her with the cab fare. I happily gave her a couple of grand.

She tried returning the extra one thousand saying that she didn’t need it, but I insisted she keep it anyway. “Do you mind if I put this on a last spin? Now that you’re cashed out maybe your luck will be mine,” she said, with a smile that lit up that dark room. Of course, I replied instantaneously.

“Choose a number,” she said, at the wheel.

“Thirty-six,” I replied without hesitation. The ball seemed to whirl forever, and danced madly over 0 and 32. But miraculously, it picked up a last burst of energy and managed to find a red hole, we so desperately wanted it to hit. As it settled on 36, Leela yelled into my ear and enveloped me in a hug.

I had a split second to take a decision before the new spin began. Should I change the numbers or not?

I was stunned. I’d never won two straight-ups on the same number in one night. I’d heard of a biased number game, but never seen it before. As I held her tight, I knew this was my moment. I had go back to the tables and soak up the luck that the stars were showering upon me. I let her go and stepped out for a smoke to calm my zinging synapses.

When I went back in half an hour, eager to hit the wheel again, Leela was there, encashing her bounty. She turned to me, clutching a bundle of freshly issued 500 rupee notes.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” she said, her eyes glittering, looking more beautiful than ever. Suddenly, she cleaved the bundle into two neat halves and handed me one. “Half of this is technically yours.”

I stared at the money. If gambling was a true measure of character, this woman was aces. I was a fool to let her go. She waited for me to take the conversation forward, but I kept quiet. Tonight was my big night and I couldn’t get distracted.

“Bets are open,” the croupier called behind me. I shot one last longing look at Leela, as I rushed to push six chips on my original numbers – the numbers that had been transmitted from up above.

I watched the tiny white ball, as it began its manic jitterbugging on the wheel of fortune. 3,18,16, 26, 7, 12 – it flirted outrageously, jumping high up in the air after each encounter, and then just as I sensed it was settling down, it hit the groove and flew off the wheel and on to the fucking floor. A no spin. The table was silent – a no spin was a famously bad omen. I cursed my luck.

I had a split second to take a decision before the new spin began. Should I change the numbers or not? Everyone around me rushed to shift their bets to ward off ill-luck, but I stuck to my guns. I’d paid the price for good luck and it was time for the universe to pay me back. The ball went live once again

I didn’t win on 36 that night. But I did win on 9. I got on to the boat with with a haul of ₹5.3 lakh, all of it snugly packed in a bag, especially issued by the casino. I still think of Leela sometimes, but in the world of the gambler when the universe is ready to cut a deal – you’ve just gotta take it.