Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
PTI reports on an interesting little controversy in Goa, where some police officers visited an offshore casino. This drew criticism, and Goa’s police chief BS Bassi duly defended his men:
Offshore casinos are not illegal here. What is the problem with police officers going to offshore casinos when they are not on duty? Many people go to temples, churches, on fishing trips…
As you’d expect, the religious loons jumped on Bassi, whose statement “drew strong criticism from officials of churches, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the main opposition BJP.”
“I was very much shocked to see the statement coming from a person who is supposed to be the guardian of law and order,” Father Francisco Caldeira, director of the Diocesan Centre for Social Communications Media of the archdiocese of Goa and Daman, said. “It is a blasphemous statement to compare casino with temples and churches.” He said that Bassi does not understand what religion is and what casino is.
I agree with Caldeira that comparing a casino to a temple or a church is pointless. But I come to that view from a different perspective.
Consider this: In a casino, a gambler looks at the odds available to him, figures out the amount of risk he is willing to take, and makes his investments accordingly. He takes his chances; and takes responsibility for the consequences. That is the stuff of life itself.
In a temple or a church or any other place of worship, on the other hand, the worshipper engages in an escapist fantasy, that there is a greater power out there that can solve his problems. He nurtures delusion and often avoids responsibility. He tries to evade the inescapable truths of the human condition: especially our mortality and ultimate helplessness. He is living a fantasy.
Which man would I trust more: the gambling man or the religious man? (FSM forbid they are the same man, for then he is truly fucked.) You know my answer.
On a tangent, not every game in a casino is a game of chance. Poker, for example, is a magnificent game of skill—even more so, in my opinion, than bridge. It requires not just a mathematical ability to work out odds and suchlike, but also the ability to read human nature. I was a competitive chess player in my youth, but I consider poker a far greater game. In chess, there is always a right answer, and it is always on the board in front of you. In poker, the variables that determine the right way to act are the people in the game with you, and not just the cards on the table. This makes it a far richer game than any I have played.
On another tangent, every decision we make in our lives is essentially a gamble. There is some risk involved, a subconscious weighing of odds, a decision taken. From an investment at the stock market to a real estate purchase to the decision to ask someone out on a date to taking the stairs instead of the elevator. There are different levels of risk attached to each of these, but fundamentally, whenever we make a choice, we are gambling. The world is a casino.
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