Known as Siat Khnam, the city of Shillong boasts a very unique lottery system.
To obtain the random numbers needed for the lottery, a group of Khasi tribesmen squat in a semicircle around a straw target and fire as many arrows as possible into it over a set time before a canvas curtain is raised to keep further arrows off the target. The arrows stuck in the target are then counted and the last two digits of the number of arrows embedded in the target are used. So, for example, 701 would equal 1 or 938 would equal 38.
That’s a lot more awesome than letting some silly little balls decide our lottery numbers in the West, isn’t it?
So, this is how Siat Khnam looks…
You can place your bet (or forecast to use the local parlance) in small shops such as these located all over Shillong:
Or you can venture to the field itself and place a bet there with one of these guys:
I placed my bet with this gentleman… You can bet as little as a rupee (about 2 cents) or as much as you want:
And here are the receipts I was given for the numbers I bet – my lottery tickets in effect:
There are two numbers generated each day. If you forecast one of the numbers, you’ll receive a payout of 80/1 odds. If you’re good enough to forecast both numbers of the day, you’ll receive a payout of 45,000/1.
When we arrived at the field, there was just a short wait until it was time to generate the second number of the day.
The lads warmed up by betting amongst themselves on who could throw the most arrows into a small target:
Here’s a video of them in action:
But soon it was time for the main event:
The order was given and the tribesmen began firing at will into the straw target:
Once the canvas curtain is raised, there is a rush to retrieve the arrows on the ground and to examine the straw target…
…Which very much resembles a porcupine at this point:
The results are tallied by a committee:
As the crowd restlessly awaits the announcement of the number:
The instant the number is announced shouts of joy and murmurs of disappointment ripple through the crowd and mobile phones appear everywhere as the various betting shops in Shillong are contacted with the results.
I was not among the winners myself, but since I only bet a few rupees I didn’t lose any sleep that night.
My higher-stakes bets are in a different arena.