"What's the time?" asks a sleepy voice from atop a piao (water kiosk). "Nine o'clock," came the reply. The questioner was Alladin Munne Khan's butler and the responder a cinema house gatekeeper returning home from duty.
Actually the time was past 1.30 a.m., and the reference to 9 p.m. denoted that that figure was the last digit of the New York Exchange Cotton future's market closing quotation, on which many gambling in Delhi on the Satta bazaar had either lost small or big amounts as stake money or earned a windfall by guessing the right number, in which they were aided by fakirs, soothsayers and "Siddhs" who sought the company of gay boys for the purpose.
Alladin smacks his lips with satisfaction for he had won Rs 180 on a stake of one anna. That was in 1956, when Rs 200 was a a substantial amount and the betting clique of seths and petty shopkeepers was either minting money in lakhs or thousands just by keeping in touch with their counterparts in Bombay, where the latest opening and closing quotations, "New York ka Taar", had been received by cable.
Fortunes were made or lost in just one night on this widespread gambling across the country prompting the slogan, "Fethur mat kholo, barbad ho jaogey."
Just before the New York thing, Ballabhgarh and Ferozepore satta operators had opened their own quotations from slips of paper drawn from a handi (earthen pot). The prizemoney for these two centres was not so high but an anna could easily fetch you Rs.50 or 60.
The result was announced over the telephone around 9.30 p.m. and the whole town came to know about it in less than an hour. Those who won went to collect their dues in the morning while the losers stayed at home hoping for better luck next time.
Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, Fatehpuri, Paharganj and Daryaganj all had their satta operators, who were mostly shopkeepers in the day and gamblers after downing their shutters. That was in the evening, when they sat outside their shops or at other convenient spots to accept bids.