From Matka king to anonymous punter, life’s come a full circle for him

Sitting on the rickety Janta Stands of Mahalaxmi Race Course, an old man pours diligently over the race book and talks to himself in whispers. He has been a regular for years but no one can claim to be on back-slapping terms with the 71-year-old in white kurta-pyjama and a scarf tied like a head band.

There's an aura surrounding Ratan Khatri—the erstwhile Matka King who from the early 60s to mid-90s decided the fate of several lakh punters and dealt with crores of rupess through a nationwide illegal gambling network with international connections. Police crackdown on his unauthorised lottery kingdom in 1995, the subsequent arrest and distancing from his grown-up children means the illicit odd-maker of the past now spends most afternoons at the Race Course as a faceless punter with a Rs 10 race book in his hands.

The wager world still holds him in awe and his highly dependable Matka system with amazing odds is part of the romantic folklore among the old-hand gamblers. At Race Course, they point fingers at him from a distance, shake their heads and get nostalgic: "Kya jamana tha Ratan Khatri ka".

But Khatri prefers anonymity. As for his eventful past he says, "No flashbacks please. I'm a simple man who wants to lead a simple life".

It is only after repeated requests that the man, who came to Mumbai from Karachi after Independence, opens his treasure chest of memories and there pop out several public figures. With a "no names please" conditions, Khatri claims several filmstars, corporates and politicians had more than passing interest in Matka and, at times, gave him midnight calls when in need of urgent cash.

Khatri even went on to produce a movie. And his association with films doesn't end there—his sons own a film-theatre in Amravati.

... contd.

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