All movie lovers will remember the ebullient & effervescent Geeta Bali challenging a down & out Dev Anand with the lilting taunt,” तदबीर से बिगड़ी हुई तक़दीर बना ले; अपने पे भरोसा है तो, एक दाव लगा ले” The challenge expressed by Geeta Bali’s eyes is beautifully captured by Geeta Dutt’s voice & SD’s tune in Baazi(1951). While to the inveterate gambler Dev plays in the movie numbers are sacrosanct, actually if you think about it numbers play an important role in all our lives. Is it because Life is a BIG GAMBLE and we are all awaiting outcomes with bated breaths though out our lives? With such uncertainty surrounding us, numbers give a sense of definitiveness. Maybe that is why we hold on to numbers through out our fearful lives.

When I was in college in Mumbai in the early 1970s, Matka was King & Ratan Khatri who ran Matka gambling dens in Mumbai was the virtual Badshah of the streets. Every nook & corner had small cubby holes where you could go & register your bet. You were given a small, perforated slip detailing your bet. The model was simple. A 3-digit number would be declared in the evening. The total of the 3 digits was what you tried to predict. If you got it right, the payoff was 1:9, For every 1 Rupee you bet you stood to gain 9 Rs . If you predicted the 3 digits also, the payoff was 1: 72. eg if the 3 digits declared were 279. This adds up to 18, 1 plus 8 again is 9. If you had bet on 9, you were paid out 1: 9. If you placed a bet on 279 you got 72 Rs for every 1 Re you bet. These 3 digits were declared at 7 pm & then again at 11 pm. So you could play for the 7 pm declaration (called Open, don’t ask me why) and/or Close, which was declared at 11 pm. You could bet on a Number , a Pana (the 3-Digit combo) at Open or at Close or both. As the probability of getting the numbers right diminished, payouts became astronomical.

One thing Ratan Khatri managed was make every Mumbaikar familiar and cognizant of the English numbers. This was regardless of education and social class. All learnt to read and write English numbers. On the roads, at kerb sides, outside the betting dens the Pana (3 digits) and the Number was written in white chalk 2 times every day. If your bet was right the payout would happen in cash the next day. Every passing cab or rickshaw was scrutinised to see if it gave any lucky no you could use to bet that day. if 2 taxis had 5 and the ending no. you bet on 5 that day. Movies which showed vehicles’ number plates, advertisements, random slips of wrapping papers were all studiously checked for hints on what number to bet on today. Ratan Khatri laughed all the way to the bank, as the odds always favoured him. But Mumbai was hooked onto numbers.

This college memory is deep in my heart. But what can you say about numerologists and simpletons who will begin an endeavor on an auspicious date? Why is every donation 51 Rs or 101 Rs or 1001? Is a round no bad luck? The street matka mindset is repeated as you go up the social strata and the betting switches to Horse racing. Statistics & number tracking becomes more elaborate. Stakes multiply multifold. But how is the number game different when you talk of Cricket betting? Or the Satta Bazaar? or the number game on the floor of Stock Exchanges? Stakes are different, tools & techniques are different, but in all these games people play, Number is King. Science takes a back seat here along with rationality. And what rules is feelings, emotions, hunches & sentiments.

In a totally different context, Chinese consider number 4 as a symbol of death. While in the western world, hotels omit the 13th floor, in China it is 4th floor. Interestingly this mindset is also not uniform. I was doing some reading on whether & why number 13 is unlucky in some cultures & came across some interesting data. 13 is not actually Unlucky but rather considered auspicious in many cultures. One theory for 13 being unlucky is that this is due to the cultures employing lunar-solar calendars. There are approximately 12.41 lunations (the period of time averaging 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds elapsing between two successive new moons) per solar year, and hence 12 “true months” plus a smaller, & often portentous, thirteenth month.

In ancient cultures, the number 13 represented femininity, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). The theory is that, as the solar calendar triumphed over the lunar, the number thirteen became anathema. In France 13 was traditionally considered a lucky number prior to the First World War & was used in numerical form as a good luck symbol on postcards & charms. Neighboring Italy: 13 was the lucky number in football pools (Totocalcio). The Italian expression “fare tredici” (literally, “make thirteen”) means to hit the jackpot.

The United States of America was created from 13 British colonies. As such, the number 13 is recurring motif in American heraldry. e.g. there are 13 stars on the Great Seal of the United States & 13 stripes on the American flag. The chest shield in front of the spread eagle bears 13 stripes (seven white & six red). The eagle’s right talon holds the Olive Branch of Peace, bearing 13 olives & 13 olive leaves. The eagle’s left talon holds the Weapons of War, consisting of 13 arrows. The eagle’s mouth holds a scroll bearing the national motto “E Pluribus Unum” (which, by coincidence, consists of 13 letters).

In astronomy there are 13 star constellations in the zodiac (including Ophiuchus). In Judaism, 13 signifies the age at which a boy matures and becomes a Bar Mitzvah, i.e., a full member of the Jewish faith (counts as a member of Minyan). The number of principles of Jewish faith according to Maimonides. According to Rabbinic commentary on the Torah, God has 13 Attributes of Mercy.

So, if you ask is 13 lucky or unlucky, I will say to you that the Jury is still out. I proposed to my college sweetheart on the 13th day of November 1971, 5 decades ago. She said Yes. Whether I am lucky or unlucky I leave it to the readers to decide. I see my own answer change on and off, & sometimes multiple times in a day!!!

So remember, it is not the number, it is all in your mind : vikas

PS: this blog owes a lot to the inspiration provided by Vinit Deo & the article at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/05/science/chinese-new-year-lunar-calendar

18 Replies to “#13”

  1. A masterpiece sir – crafted in your unique style. We all are bound by such things – number and many others for that matter. Seen traffic haults on main roads when a 🙀 has crossed and we have paid hefty fees to Motor Vehicle for the lucky number in our new car. All these could be out of the deeply rooted mental inhibitions that get activated at mind-bends. 🙏


    1. Kabir many thanks for your kind words and encouragement
      In the Hindu calender . Trayodashi is always considered auspicious with Dhanatrayadoshi in Diwali is the start of the Diwali festivities
      We need to over come our irrational thinking and fears and we can be happy with what so ever comes our way

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Vikas,
    Vijubhaichi aani batatevadyachi aathwan karun dilis.Vegla vishay tackle kela aahes. Khup chan. Mi aani bharati nehemi friday d thiteenthla khup ghabraycho arthat thirteenla tevhade nahi.Tarihi blog आवडला. Nostalgic.


  3. You made me ponder on the phenomenon and I will keep wondering for some time……..Lucky or Unlucky 🙂


  4. Dear sir, you know I am not French but still think that # 13 is lucky and more so for me at least . My roll number was always 13( surprisingly and without a conscious choice) in college, my Chest Number in BSF Academy was 13 and I was posted to 13 Battalion of Border Security Force, most of the time travelled on seat number 13 in trains and all without any effort. But does this make any difference that I don’t know😊 regards hcp


  5. The theory that “ Good Karmas give good results” has gone for a toss, as in reality many subscribe to the view that “Good numbers give good results”!

    You have captured this beautifully in your gripping blog.

    Besides, the content is also very informative !There are sooo many aspects around numbers which are not popularly known…starting from the minute details of the matka operations of the 1970s !

    On a lighter note, it almost appears that you were participating in the Ratan’s game plan to try out your luck!

    On a serious note, the underlying theme is :

    “people want easy life”

    Be it easy money (only think of the RIGHT number)


    Easy fortune (just book the right numbered flat and the life will be taken care!)

    No need to work hard. Just choose the right number!!!

    Going against the established belief systems needs guts ..which you showed on a 13 th November some decades back .

    You continue to display that courage by writing openly how the luck changes for you multiple times!

    I conclude, therefore, that you are courageous and you are lucky!!

    Thanks VS ,as always!


    1. JLS
      as usual your comments give a different & enjoyable perspective

      the Indian fascination for astrology, predictions, adding a k or an r in my name
      buying a car with a particular no or a flat on a specific floor
      all these things are reading too much into random events. As Nissim Taleb notes…we are fooled by randomness and unfortunately we are happy to be fooled
      A scientific temper has never been our strength in the public life and so we are happy to cling to such foolish things as number or “akshar” hoping that we will reduce the unpredictability which surrounds our life

      I had a friend ( Padma refers to him in her comment) Vijubhai Desai who was a strong influence on me in my early days in Mumbai
      I followed him everywhere….including the Matka dens….like a pet dog
      the middle class upbringing did not allow me to play matka myself ever, though Vijubhai always had a winning streak
      but I was very closely involved in all his betting, reccomending no.s, moving with him
      the funniest experience was one day when we were in the den, there was a police raid and we were arrested
      I was in the first year of college
      I was shocked, worried what would my parents say, what will be my image in the LIC housing colony where we stayed
      Vijubhai was cool
      told me dont worry
      we all were packed into a police van and taken to S’cruz police station
      before the van reached the PS a person from Ratan Khatri was standing there and he pulled out some of us from the cohort
      Person by Person we were substituted
      10 people arrested, 3 were pulled out, 3 others put in the group, and we 3 were free to go
      my most fav matka experience
      Vijubhai told me : hu tamne kehto hato chinta nai karwani

      Life has been good and I agree I have been very lucky in life
      for an Arts student to get all that I have got is of course luck
      with humility I must accept there are far more intelligent, sincere, committed people than me
      who are far worse off than me
      How can I explain this except as good luck

      we must believe in luck as otherwise how can you explain success of people you do not like, he he


  6. Nice writing Vikas !
    Thoroughly enjoyed !
    And yes Luck and Unluck !
    Both are just a mind game phrases .
    Thanks for sharing your blog .


    1. Pradeep
      thanks for your enthusiastic comment and support
      We are surrounded by prejudices and misconceptions
      some of them are even positive
      the smart person leaves these things behind


  7. Exceptional!
    You are weaver of story telling n makes one to reflect.
    Subtly,you have touched on belief that I will win big lottery/matka prize when the probability is low.
    But then man lives on hope.
    Thanks Vikas.


    1. Yes Suresh indeed man lives on hope
      but in all gambling it is always the house which earns and never the punter
      Life’s uncertainties cannot be wished away
      but the joy of living is in the indeterminate outcomes
      if it was all predecided we would stop enjoying


  8. These are all superstitions and they are universal cutting across all religions. 786 is auspicious number for Muslims.Hindus consider a number ending 1 as auspicious. Poor play Matka, rich play Horse race.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: