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From jackpot to bull’s eye

It takes 3,000 arrows to hit the jackpot in Meghalaya everyday and J Rynjah bets on his eyesight to shoot 50 of those and earn Rs 80 a day, reports Rahul Karmakar.

other Updated: Jan 21, 2009 12:22 IST
Rahul Karmakar

It takes 3,000 arrows to hit the jackpot in Meghalaya everyday and J Rynjah bets on his eyesight to shoot 50 of those and earn Rs 80 a day. The money is “extra income” for this potato farmer from Nongkynrih village, 35 km from Shillong.

At 70, Rynjah is the oldest of the 30 stewards, permanent shooters employed by the Khasi Hills Archery Sports Institute (KHASI), which controls Shillong’s open-air casino - a 12,000 sq ft field adjoining the Polo Ground that hosts ‘teer’, the legalized archery-based gambling, every evening. It is the biggest of the state’s three ‘teer’ centres, which offer a return of Rs 60-80 for every Re 1 wagered.

Rynjah’s daily routine includes arriving at the ‘teer’ venue by 3.30 pm and taking position on an arc 60 ft from the target — a 30x45 inches bamboo-strip cylinder fixed on a bamboo pole.

As a rule, the archers have to land a maximum of 1,800 arrows on the target during the first round of four minutes.

The second round, of three minutes, entails 1,200 arrows, each two feet long and made of pencil-thin bamboo reeds with kite feathers as stabilizing vanes. The last two digits of the number of successful arrows counted after each round are the winning figures.

Bettors may or may not predict the lucky numbers through bookies to hit the jackpot, but ‘teer’ ensures at least Rs 30 crore as annual revenue for the Meghalaya government. “The government is only interested in the money; it does nothing for the traditional sport of archery. It’s left to us to spot shooting talent and give them a source of income,” said KHASI president P. Laloo.

The government does have plans, claimed tourism minister Conrad Sangma. But it is to create a casino-like ambience for “gambling with a difference” to attract more visitors. Some individuals, though, have managed to blend the traditional form with modern archery to groom archers for national and international events.

“The move to wean archers, mostly from poor rural families, away from betting began in the 1970s. But thanks to the Sports Authority of India, it received a boost after the turn of the millennium,” Arwan Singh Tariang, president of Archery Association of Meghalaya, told HT.

The experiment seems to be working. Meghalaya has produced promising teenagers like Sheikborlang Lyngdoh, Bansara Dhar, Naomi Laloo and Christine.

Many are betting on their ability to hit the bull’s eye.