As luck, and about 1000 arrows would have it, I lost.
Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya, has a gambling problem. In the small Northeast hill station, Teer, a curious phenomenon that blends archery and the interpretation of dreams, has got people hooked. Men, women, and even children run the thousands of Teer stalls throughout the city - along the main roads, tucked away behind corners, up against tea stalls - offering odds as high as 4,000/1 and doing a very brisk business. A single common phrase appears on blackboards across the city, scrawled in countless handwritings and displayed proudly at the front of each Teer stall: “First Round: 26; Second Round 73.”
People in Shillong are hooked onto “Teer” (archery)
I was on ‘business’ in Shillong, so I decided I might as well have a little flutter, but first I needed to know the rules of the game. I found a friendly looking lady minding a relatively quiet Teer stall and walked over to have a chat.
“How does this work?” I asked. “You choose numbers, and they shoot arrows,” she replied, clearly surprised that anyone would need an explanation. “Who shoots arrows? Who do they shoot them at? Where do they shoot them? How do they decide how many to shoot?” I fired back at the poor woman. She clearly hadn’t reckoned on being harassed by a gambling foreigner this morning. “Go check it out for yourself,” she said. “They shoot at 4:00 PM and 5:15 PM at the Polo Ground.”
Trying to figure out how this works
I scrambled into a taxi and told the driver to take us to the Polo Ground. He stared back with a blank expression on his face. “Let’s go where they play Teer,” I tried again. A knowing smile spread across his face and he laughed. With an admonition to be careful with my money, he dropped me off at the entrance and showed me his own ticket, purchased earlier that morning. Did everyone in this city play Teer?
The ground itself was a frenzy of activity, divided into a field and an area for tea stalls and betting booths. In the betting section, men strode back and forth, chewing paan, clapping one another on the back. Women steered clear of the show of male camaraderie but were equally insistent to place and take bets. Everyone here meant business. The field consisted of a dirt semicircle shaded by an awning, which faced a wooden post in a corner of the lot. Underneath the awning sat many men in single file, ringing the field, drawing back bows and sharpening arrows.
All set to take aim
A friendly bookie came up to me and asked what the hell I thought I was doing. When I explained that I was here to bet, he became friendly and answered some of my questions about how the game works:
Each round, 50 archers fire arrows at the target not less than 300 arrows and not more than 1,000. 5 Teer officials then each count the arrows and take the last two-digits of the number as the round score. If 748 arrows hit the target in round 1, the recorded score is 48. The odds for correctly predicting one round are 80/1 and the ‘fourcast,’ a 4-digit number returns at a rate of 4,000/1. The archers come from remote villages and are paid 300 rupees for a day’s work.
I asked him if I could place a bet, and began to give him some of my lucky numbers, but he stopped me. “This game is played on dreams of the peasants. Tell me about what you dreamt last night and I will tell you the numbers you should play.”
Making my first bet
Symbolism is big in Teer. Dreaming of a man and woman means you should choose a combination of 5 and 6, water is 7, dead people are 9, anything round is a 0. If you dream of playing Teer itself, you will win no matter what. Some people play the same numbers for years on end; others vary their bets from week to week. Most people play between 10 and 100 rupees, but there are stories of massive bets, like 5 lakhs on a single number. When that happens, various independent bookies diffuse the risk among one another. Collectively, they pay out around 50-60 lakhs a day, to people in places as far as Mumbai. The bookie refuses to tell me how much they take in, but it must be crores. One bookie tells me he personally paid out 4 lakhs one day, noting that the money comes and goes in this business. I play 100 rupees, spread out amongst 1st round, 2nd round, and fourcast.
Teer, a curious phenomenon that blends archery and the interpretation of dreams
4:00 arrives and the archers begin to fire arrows. They are absolute machines and incredibly accurate. Everyone is watching, clutching their betting slips tightly and hoping against hope that their numbers will be right. At the close of 5 minutes, the officials pull up a tarp across the field, effectively preventing any stray arrows from reaching the target. They proceed to count the arrows in bunches of 10, color sorting them so that the archery clubs might return home with their equipment. I don’t win anything in the 1st round - or the 2nd round for that matter, but I feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins.
The day comes to a close and people trickle out back into their normal lives. I realize it’s time for me to head out as well, and the bookie laughs as he sees me leaving the ground with my pockets empty.
“Come back and play with us anytime!”
Hoping against hope that their numbers are right
101 Teer Dream Interpretations
1. Erotic dream: 03, 08, 13, 37, 40, 73
2. Flying in an airplane: 23, 43, 53, 63, 68, 73, 83, 93
3. Money: 00, 14, 15, 20, 25, 35, 50
4. Ghost or apparition: 52, 54, 58, 62, 64, 68
5. An event: 18, 28, 38, 52, 58, 62
6. Husband and wife fight: 03, 08, 13, 37, 40, 73
7. Bathing in the open: 08, 18, 28, 48, 78, 98
And more: teercounter.com
The archers fire like machines
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By William Gansa
Photographs by Avijit Pathak