Teer is the Hindi word for an ‘arrow’ but has a slightly different meaning in Shillong. Here ‘Teer’ blends archery and interpretation of dreams, and has engendered a bit of gambling problem. It was only during my visit to Shillong this year that I found myself exposed to this rather surreal and absurd sport. Locals describe it as a traditional game and claim that “this is the only place in the world where you can dream and earn money”.
Teer claims its due in Shillong. As you make your way through the narrow lanes of this hill town, by the end of it you would lose track of the number of Teer stalls dotting the lanes – some along the main roads, a few tucked away behind corners and others up against tea stalls; all proudly displaying numbers from the first and second round. What are the first and second rounds? Such is the craze here!
A little bit about Teer
Traditionally called “Thom Tim”, Teer is the most unique game of lottery in the world. Archery has been the traditional sport of the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya for centuries. It is believed that sometime in the early 20th century, people started placing bets on such games. As the newly-formed state of Meghalaya realized it could be a good source of revenue and in 1982 Teer – or betting on archery – was legalized. It is now controlled under the Meghalaya Amusements and Betting Tax (Amendment) Act 1982. The game has a very strong online presence as well.
The reality today
Teer is played every single day in Shillong and the rules of the game are quite simple. A frail lady running a small tea-stall at the far end of the street became a victim of my curiosity. Making sense of what seemed like a never-ending round of questions, she casually said “you bet, they aim!”. Her answer seemed like a riddle to me and I was hoping she would elaborate, but she went back to minding her business.
Everyone around me held a token ticket. How does one get an entire town hooked on to a game? A cab driver who had been listening to my conversation with the frail lady the whole time, walked up to me. He flashed his token ticket and offered to drop me at the Polo Ground where they shoot arrows at 4 pm and 5.15 pm daily. On our way to the Polo Ground, he explained why exactly teer is such a big deal in Shillong. More than just being a game of chance, Teer is a solid and steady source of income in this part of the country. While outsiders may call it lunacy, Teer pretty much forms the backbone of the state of Meghalaya by providing employment to the people of Shillong who try and make their ends meet by running Teer stalls and selling token tickets. But above all, Teer symbolizes hope. The hope of winning big on their lucky day!
Every day the men, women and children flock to Polo Grounds after buying a token based on the number they dream of. Well, this is twisted. I was randomly thinking of a number when a gentleman explained that the numbers are derived or based on our dreams. Apparently they have a number associated with each type of dream. The gentleman offered to help me associate my last dream with a number. The algorithm goes like –
If you dream of a man, you choose 6
If you dream of a woman, you choose 5
If you dream of a man and a woman fighting, you choose 13
If it is an erotic dream, it is number 17
If you dream of playing Teer itself, you will win no matter what.
After buying a token, we moved to the ground where the action shifts at 3.30pm. The entire ground is divided into a field and an area for tea stalls and betting booths. Every day, 50 archers shoot 30 arrows each at 3.30 pm and 20 arrows in the second round at 4.30 pm. These archers are like machine guns firing arrows at the speed of light and it is baffling to see how accurate they are. People betting on this game only have to predict the last two digits of the total number of arrows that hit the target. For example, if 1,030 arrows hit the target, then the winning number is 30, and if 1,065 arrows hit then the winning number is 65, and so on and so forth.
Two results are announced every day — for the first round at 3:30 pm and the second round at 4:30 pm. A person can win INR 80 for every Re 1 gambled on a number in the first round and INR 60 for every INR 1 spent on the second round.
If one is able to correctly predict the number of both the first and second round, then the winning amount is much higher — as high as INR 4,000 for every INR 1 gambled.
Shillong thrives on this institutionalized gambling. Young and old are obsessed with the game.. With the state recognizing Teer as a legal activity, there is no end to where this obsession can drive the working class. And as for me, I placed a bet and lost! Apparently beginners luck doesn’t quite apply here. Swallowing my disappointment I make my peace with the fact that I will most likely never dream the dream or score the shot. All I can say is, if you plan on placing a bet, sweet dreams!