Odds or Evens?

Philip John

I remember learning the rudimentary skills of 3 Cards in my closing years in School. Flash was another name for 3 Cards. This card game required very little cerebral and cognitive engagement but required the guts to take risks and bluff your way through situations. They say that Flash is akin to Poker. In my experience it is an asset to keep a poker face while you are holding great cards or poor ones but not much else. The game consists of dealing a hand of 3 cards to three or more players. I don’t intend to teach you the game at this point, but suffice it to say it is one of the more intense ‘gambling’ card games.

I honed my skills at St. Stephens College. We would meet at the room of my friend George Varghese. George was from Kottayam, a jat bhai (fellow Malayalee Syrian Christian) and one year senior to me. I should have known that he came from a wealthy family and could afford to cut class and play 3 Cards while I could not! Anyway, we hung out with many others joining in this most entertaining of card games – to experience the adrenaline rush when we got an Ace, King, Queen of Spades or other good cards! On some occasions Kabir Bedi (who later became a movie actor) would join us.
Before I proceed I must digress and tell you a bit more about my college life. One does not join St. Stephens to study Economics or History or Mathematics, yes that too, but it’s the rich cultural experiences and extra curricular life, as well as, the friendships you make with faculty and fellow students that stays with you for life. I learned corporate loyalty at Stephens – a hallmark of this great institution.
We had several ‘societies’ in College – the English Society, the History Society, the Debating Society, the Dramatics Society, and so on. Each society had its own budget, partly funded by College. Those who ran the affairs would organise speakers and have activities to suit the aims and objectives of the society. One was the Students Christian Movement (SCM) of which I was appointed the Secretary. The SCM meetings were well attended, more because of the fabulous refreshments I would lay out on each occasion!
One day, Mr. S. C. Sircar, the Principal of St. Stephens summoned me to his office. Since St. Stephens was a Christian College, the SCM reported to the Principal and my meeting him was a routine matter.
Mr. Sircar sat me down and asked me how the SCM was doing. I gave him an update. Then out of the blue he asked, “Philip, did you know that there is a clandestine drinking club in College?”
I allowed his words to sink in, then spoke, my expression one of disbelief and horror.
“Really Sir? And we are a Christian institution!”
He gave me a minute to get back my composure, and then pulled out a file from his draw.
“Philip, I have the names of all who are members of this drinking club”.  Before my face could contort in consternation, he continued, “And your name is on top of the list!”
There has been a few occasions when I had wished for the earth to open up and swallow me. This was one such moment!
Anyway, suffice it to say that when I arrived in Cochin, I was already quite the man of the world! But there were other things to divert my attention – Squash, Sailing, Parties, and of course, Work. Any thought of gambling was forgotten, till a young man arrived in Cochin as Assistant Manager at Grindlays Bank. His name was R.C. Suneja (Ramesh). He was newly married and soon he became part of our crowd.
We would all meet at Carritts Castle, where Madhav and Saroj lived. They had a small swimming pool and they made a Badminton Court in the compound. Soon this became the preferred meeting place for the young people. Ramesh soon showed a penchant for gambling, but he made things really simple. He would take out a 10 rupee note and ask “Odds or Evens?” A currency note would have distinctive numbers like 9BC188-077. The next note would be 9BC188-078. The first note ended in the odd number 7, while the next one ended in the even number 8. If you called Odd while the note ended with an even number you lost the 10 rupees if not, you won the money. I am sure by now you would have worked out the mechanics of this intellectually complicated game!
Of course, no one played this game while sober! It seemed a bit silly! But the betting would start towards the end of a party – when it could become lethal as the stakes would rise!
Occasionally, we would drive up for an impromptu meal to the Casino Hotel or Malabar from a drinks party. One night Govind and Promie Jauhar, Saroj and Madhav, and a few of us were returning from dinner. Govind’s car was in front but he stopped on the Thopumpady Bridge, and we all got out of our cars to find out why he had stopped. He took out his wallet, pulled out a 100 rupee note and asked, “Odds or Evens?”
A hundred rupees at the time was a lot of money – a peg of Scotch cost 4 rupees at the Cochin Club!

Gambling is addictive. The more you play the more you want to. A friend introduced me to Horse Racing while I was in college. I would fly to Bangalore from Cochin, play the Races and fly back. My friend Mahendra Singh Jhala, who later followed me to J. Thomas, was a keen punter. While in St. Stephens, his uncle the Raja of Dhrol, a princely State in Saurashtra would endow Mahendra with a handsome purse to pay his Term fees and include adequate pocket money to enjoy life.

Mahendra would come to Delhi via Bombay. He would stop by in Bombay to bet on the Races before flying to Delhi. These were the days when that great horse Bhaktawar was in his prime. If he won Mahendra  would live like a prince which he was, but when he lost he would live like a pauper. He would borrow money to pay his fees and then live abstemiously for the rest of the term!

Fortunately for me, my flutter at the Races did not last more that a few years and there was not much damage. It seemed great fun at the time, but it could easily have become a disease.
Last year, our family spent a few days at the luxurious Hotel Bellagio in Las Vegas. It had a most opulent Casino as well. All luxury hotels on the four mile Strip have casinos. Vegas is known as the gambling capital of the world.

You cannot escape the casinos and the permissive atmosphere that is pervasive in Las Vegas. But my earlier experiences with gambling stopped me from feeling any interest in the many gambling options that was offered to me. Once or twice my grandson showed interest in playing the ‘one arm bandits’ and I was able to steer him away by offering more interesting and inclusive things to do!

In other news…

In 1967 Jani Uthup, my friend from London joined J. Thomas & Co. From then on I would visit Jani each year. Calcutta was the big Apple for those who worked in smaller tea towns like Cochin. Jani and I would hang out for a few days before I flew to Delhi where my parents lived.

I will cover more about that in the coming despatches. Till then goodbye!
My next blog will be from another location. So tune in next week!

3 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *