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The Lottery

Palm reader Malabalam station Aug 1994
Malabalam station palm reader

A news item about a Tour Guides course, caught my eye. I immigrated to Israel.

Lotteries were prohibited in South Africa, where I came from. In Israel they abounded. Ticket vendors were everywhere. 

Salesmen, imprisoned in small bright orange, pillbox shaped cubicles accepted hard earned cash from get rich quick suckers. 

These structures were encountered on busy thoroughfares, outside banks, bus stations and post offices. 

A firm willpower was called for to pass by without noting the enormous sums to be won. One week 20 million, another 30

Becoming a millionaire seemed easy. “why not me?”


Ben Gurion, had introduced the system to gain money for state projects, like housing new immigrants. Today profits are used for building sport stadiums.

One of these cages, at the entrance of Jerusalem’s central post office, could be seen from Postal Services, where I worked as a compiler of rules for clerks on how to send bulk mail.

My colleagues were a hodge podge of people from every conceivable country on the globe. Israel Mimran, from Morocco, had it in for Israel’s first Prime minister, who treated Jewish immigrants from his part of the world, as second class citizens.

His anger was vented every time he went to the kitchen to refill his cup with tea. A custom evolved, splashing the left over dregs, as he walked passed a poster of the illustrious leader, besmirching the white fuzzy haired countenance 

My anger against the founder of the lottery also burned as each week the millions eluded me. Throwing tea at Ben Gurion’s picture became my habit also.

After leaving government service, I became a tour guide. Certificate in my hand, a once in a lifetime opportunity arose. Travel to India to promote tourism to Israel. 

My lectures accompanied by slides were heard by prospective tourists to Israel. The Oberoy Grand in Calcutta, the Sheraton in Mumbai and in Madras, the Malabar in Cochin, were some of the venues where I performed.

The concierge of the Madras Sheraton, where I was staying, stood to attention when I approached. Snow-white uniform, gold pen clutched between his swarthy fingers, he conveyed the impression of being able to arrange anything, even a trip to the moon, if required. 


Aghast, he declared that he’d never, in his worst nightmares had such an absurd request been made of him. Not disheartened by the man's exclamation “oh no sir, don’t do that”, I repeated, “Where is the railway station?”


The attendant's consternation became clear to me, when I alighted from the motor scooter taxi, known as a tuc-tuc.

Malabalam station Madras

Mortals, pulsing in a mass, blocked my way to the sidewalk. Fakirs, skimpy white loincloths covering torsos of jutting out bones sat on the sidewalk. Banana sellers and coconut vendors offered their wares to the those trying to enter the railway station.

The sign above, white letter on a dark background, in English and Hindu, announced that I had arrived at the issuing office. Another sign warned not to board the train without evidence of payment. Access to the counter was impossible.

Risking a heavy fine I marched towards the waiting train. People blocked the doors. Not a single scrap would be able to squeeze into the sardine can-like carriage.

Following the example of my fellow commuters, desperate to go somewhere, I grabbed on to the shiny iron bars attached to the coach.

What if the iron bar detached itself? a possibility, considering the weight of all the bodies holding on for dear life.

This eventuality only worried me. The other’s chatted calmly with one another. Traveling this way was their daily routine. One man was reading the newspaper as the train moved forward.

With no specific destination in mind, the experience of riding public transport in India achieved, I jumped off at the first stop.

Ganesh, the elephant god of luck and material wealth, faced me on the platform.

Saris, some red with golden butterflies, others, yellow and many bottle green, covered the dark skinned women. Modesty was guarded but the stomach and the navel were bare.

An elephant ambled passed and I crossed the busy street to the sidewalk, where men sitting with legs akimbo called to passerby to have their palms read.

My future would be revealed to me, at last. The palmist demanded a rupee. Not realizing that the price was astronomical by Indian standards. Very little by Israeli. The coin landed in his swarthy hand.

Such a large sum deserved a favorable future. Bony black fingers traced the lines on the palm of my hand. Back again moved the digit of destiny. The most prominent line reached all the way from the bottom of the thumb to the palm’s edge.

Eyes lighting up at this sight. He called his neighbor. Wise heads nodded. Yes, they were privileged to witness such a sign, to be in the presence of a future mountain of wealth.

Onlookers gathered around. “What do you see?” a look of amazement came into his eyes. Multi-millionaire he shouted for all the crowd to hear. 

"There must be some mistake, just millionaire, not multi". Checked, and certified, definitely multi. Everyone was cheering and clapping hands.


This could happen by winning the sweepstake. I needed the winning digit.

Another rupee, he said would buy it. Two rupees was nothing to a man who was to become a multimillionaire. Dice were thrown and 8 came up.

The rest of my stay in Madras was spent riding busses, visiting bookshops, which were excellent, and the Tamil Nadu tourist office, to arrange a tour of the area.

My duties in India completed, a heart filled with certainty of becoming a multi-millionaire I boarded the plane for Tel Aviv.

Visions of luxurious possessions flashed through my mind. Ships, aeroplanes, palaces, all would be mine. The fortune was on its way to me.

My first task, on returning to Jerusalem, was to go to that cubicle at the post office and purchase a token with number 8 on it. 

Blood racing through my veins, I held my breath. Here come the hordes of cash.

O no, no flashing lights, no trumpets. It didn't happen. The result was disappointing.

Another 5 shekels handed over the following week and the next. A flash of light, entered my brain. Insight came to me. Foolish me. Billions were on their way and here I was messing with gambling.

Someone who is going to become a multi-millionaire doesn’t need a lottery ticket.

Games of chance lost their attraction for me, as I began my patient wait for the treasure to arrive.



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