There were two islands in the Indian Ocean inhabited only by animals. They were called Jeevan and Roopam. Jeevan was ruled by a lion called Bhoj while Khoj, the rhinoceros was the king of Roopam. The animals (and birds of course) of these two islands lived peacefully with each other. The animals of Jeevan who were meat eaters ate the fish which was available in plenty around the island while the vegetarian inhabitants of Roopam enjoyed the fruits leaves and shoots. There was no killing or bloodshed in either Jeevan or Roopam.
Another thing which made the two islands special was the passion of the animals for a game called Hoomba. This was a sport quite similar to football which is so popular in the so called civilized world. The only difference was that instead of a football the animals used a coconut. There was a healthy rivalry between Jeevan and Roopam and the residents of the two islands really enjoyed supporting their players.
Every six months a tournament was organized. Five matches in all were played and the king of the winning island was crowned Hoomba Raja. The matches drew large crowds and the animals went crazy cheering their teams.
One day the final of the championship was in progress in Roopam. Both the islands had won two matches each. The excitement was at a fever pitch with only three minutes left and the score tied 4 coconuts each.
Lama, the antelope who was the centre forward of Roopam raced ahead dribbling the coconut. He dodged the defenders and neared the goal post. As Prana, the panther who was the goal keeper of Jeevan lunged ahead to tackle him, Lama swerved to the right catching his rival by surprise. Before Prana could recover Lama kicked the coconut into the goal post. The jungle stadium erupted in cheers.
Roopam had won on their home ground retaining the title they had clinched six months ago.
The match was witnessed by Gopu the owl who had come from Bharat to visit his cousin Ullu. After seeing the enthusiastic crowds at the match an idea struck him. He talked to several animals and birds and then went to meet Khoj.
“Congratulations O’ King for being crowned Hoomba Raja twice in a row!”
“Thanks Gopu. Did you enjoy the match?”
“Very much. But King I feel the potential of the tournament is not being tapped fully.”
“What do you mean?”
“These matches can be used to generate a lot of money?”
“Money! What is that?”
“Oh! I forgot you simple Jungle folk have no idea about money. Money makes the world go round. Money makes you wealthy.”
“What is wealthy?”
“Well, being wealthy is having more resources than others or control over scarce resources.”
“But then I already have control over all the resources. I can take whatever I want, whenever I want.”
“That is not quite true, O’ King. Have you forgotten about Amrit and Henna?”
Amrit was a special kind of fruit golden in color with a bright red kernel. It was grown in a small orchard in Roopam. It was a rare fruit that could only be grown in the soil of Roopam. The fruit was rationed to the animals. Each animal was given two fruits every season. The king would also get only five. The rest was kept for the baby animals and the female animals who had babies inside them. Henna was type of fish available in a pond din the middle of Jeevan and was rationed exactly in the same manner.
Khoj was silent for sometime.
“But what is your purpose of telling me all this?” he asked.
“I think in order to generate greater competition and more resources we should introduce betting in Hoomba.”
“Now what in the heavens is betting?”
“It is an activity which is popular among all humans, especially Indians. In its simplest form it is something like this - Suppose a match is going on between Jeevan and Roopam. If you bet one Amrit on Roopam winning and it wins, you get ten Amrit. However, if it loses you lose that Amrit. Similarly you can have bets of one hundred, one thousand or even one lakh.”
“What happens to the Henna I lose?”
“It goes to the bookie - the person who organizes the betting.”
“But how will all this help me or Roopam?”
“There will be keener interest in the matches which will improve the performance of the players. Animals will get into the habit of saving Amrit and Henna. These are grown in an exclusive orchard and a pond. Once the demand increases the animals might work harder and a day will come when who knows the special fruit and fish may be grown in greater numbers.”
Khoj thought for sometime and then said,” Okay let me talk to Bhoj.”
Bhoj was convinced and the betting was introduced in the two islands in a small way. Gradually as the animals got hooked the popularity of betting started soaring. Soon almost every animal and every bird was involved in betting. The demand for Henna and Amrit grew so much that two more orchards and ponds came up. In the new orchards the animals made special efforts to cultivate Amrit and succeeded. The animals formed a special task force called Henna Hunting Party. They scoured the waters surrounding the two islands and gathered as much Henna as they could get. They then let them loose in the ponds. The fish bred rapidly and very soon the tow islands were flourishing with Henna.”
A couple of days before the start of the final of the Hoomba tournament Gopu went to Arjun, the Cheetah the centre forward of Jeevan. Arjun was practicing dribbling in front of the cave.
“Hello Arjun, how are you?” inquired Gopu.
“Hi! I am fine. I am practicing for the big game tomorrow.”
“How would you like to make some extra Amrits?”
“See you are the best player in Jeevan. Tomorrow in the finals if you don’t play well Jeevan is sure to lose.”
“But I am feeling fit and fine. I am going to ensure that Jeevan wins the title and my King is crowned Hoomba Raja.”
“But suppose I give you a 100 Amrits?”
“100 Amrits!” Arjun gasped his eyes widening. “But why should you do that?”
“To play badly and lose the match.”
“But what do you gain if we lose.”
“I’ll stand to make a lot of Amrits and Hennas. That is all I can say. The rest is too complicated for you to understand.”
Now Arjun was simple fellow who was happiest when playing Hoomba. But his wife Aruna was crazy about Amrits and was always pestering him to get more.
“But suppose I get caught.”
“No way. I am not asking you to play badly. All you have to do is to miss a few chances of scoring which can well be attributed to bad luck.”
Arjun thought for sometime and then nodded his head. That moment match fixing was born in the two islands.
In the next tournament Bookie bribed Lama the Antelope of Roopam to play badly. And this went on and on.
The animals continued to be crazy about Hoomba, continued thronging the stadium and treating the lead players like heroes.
One day Chinta, the Fox, the Intelligence Officer of Khoj was passing through the forest when he heard some voices. Chinta was very smart and his job was to keep Bhoj informed of all the happenings in the Jungle. He stopped to listen.
“Listen Arjun, this match Roopam has to win by ten coconuts. You will not score a single coconut and Lama and his team will score ten. Is it clear?”
“That is impossible. The animals of Jeevan will lynch me. I should at least make it a tough fight.”
“You don’t understand. Betting has become very sophisticated. It is no more on who wins and who loses but by how much one team wins and the other loses. And I’ll give you 150 hennas for your efforts.”
“I want nothing less than 300.”
“That is impossible. I can only go as far as 200.”
“200 Hennas!” Arjun exclaimed his eyes shining. “My wife’s birthday is tomorrow. I can give her 200 hennas. She will be delighted.”
Chinta couldn’t believe his ears. He rushed to Khoj and told him the whole story.
“My Hoomba! It is unbelievable. I was wondering what was happening to Arjun and Lama. Both were so erratic. One match they played so well and in the other they flopped miserably. So that scoundrel Gopu is behind all this.”
The next day the match was in progress. Gopu was in the VIP stand on the very edge of his seat. The match was nearing its end. And the score which should have been 10-0 in favor of Roopam was Jeevan-15 and Roopam-3. Arjun seemed to have gone crazy and was playing like someone possessed. He had already scored two hat-tricks. As Gopu watched in dismay, cursing Arjun under his breath, the Cheetah scored another goal, completing his third hat-trick, which was a record. Jeevan won the match 16-3.
As the players trooped into the stadium. Gopu took Arjun aside and charged aside.
“What came over you, you rascal. How could you betray me? You know I have lost 1000 Hennas and 800 Amrits in a single game. You have ruined me. But don’t think I’ll spare you. I have a group of animals working with me. All as powerful as you. They will break every bone in your body.”
“That will happen if you live to tell the tale, you scoundrel,” came a deep voice.
Gopu turned around. Bhoj the lion lumbered into view followed by Khoj the rhinoceros.
“I have caught you red handed, you rascal. So you were the scoundrel corrupting the innocent animals of Roopam and Jeevan,” Bhoj thundered.
“You almost ruined a beautiful game,” shouted Khoj.
“If it wasn’t for Chinta, you would have destroyed not only Hoomba but also the peaceful fabric of Roopam and Jeevan. When Chinta told me I summoned Arjun and his wife Aruna and confronted the Cheetah. He came out with the whole story. Poor Aruna had no idea that Arjun was fixing matches. “I love Amrits but that doesn’t mean you have to betray Jeevan to get me a few extra fish,” she shouted at Arjun.
The Cheetah begged apologies and I have forgiven him and Khoj has forgiven Lama. But they will have to work hard and in six months return all the Hennas and Amrits they earned illegally,” Bhoj said and looking at Khoj asked, “Friend, what do we do with this rascal.”
“I think we should give him an exemplary punishment, to be an example for all the animals.”
Six months later yet another Hoomba match was in progress. But this match was different. Instead of a coconut the animals were kicking a steel cage. And inside the cage was Gopu the owl. Every time a kick landed on the cage Gopu would howl in pain much to the delight of the spectators. After ten minutes time out was declared. Bhoj went to the middle of the ground and opening the door of the cage said,” I think Gopu you have learnt your lesson. We animals are not as cruel as the humans. We have decided to let you go free. But you are forbidden to come to these parts ever again.”
The owl, grateful for the release flapped its wings and flew away.
The whistle blew and the actual match started in earnest with Arjun racing away with the Hoomba and Lama in close pursuit.