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Mumbai: Ratan Khatri, the ‘matka king’, dies at 88

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 11-05-2020
a close up of a man © Provided by The Indian Express

Ratan Khatri, who reigned supreme from the early 1960s till the 1990s as the 'matka king', passed away at his residence in south Mumbai on Saturday. He was 88. He had suffered a brain stroke and was recovering when he died.

Khatri is said to be the person who spread a particular form of gambling, which was based on picking chits from matkas (earthern pots), from Mumbai to different parts of the country. Known to be close to politicians, film stars and policemen, he had over the last three decades kept away from the matka trade.

Hailing from a Sindhi family, Khatri came to Mumbai from Karachi following Partition. His elder brother started out betting on the numbers trasmitted by the New York Cotton Exchange. This eventually led Khatri and his brother started their own matka called 'Khatri Matka', which became so famous that the daily turnover went up to Rs 1 crore.

Before Khatri Matka, there was 'Kalyan Matka' or 'Worli Matka', run by Kalyanji Bhagat. This business was based on the opening and closing rates of cotton trasmitted by the New York Cotton Exchange in the 1960s.

Khatri made use of the fact that on the weekend, the New York Cotton Exchange was shut. The matka he started involved drawing lots from chits in a pot. It became popular and with the help of telephones, the winning number was passed on across the country, helping Khatri to establish the business countrywide.

The clientele mainly consisted of mill workers and others from the working class who could only place smaller bets. Khatri had also produced a movie call Rangeela Ratan, starring Rishi Kapoor where he played a guest role.

Former Mumbai Police commissioner D Sivanandan said, “Khatri was the uncrowned kind of the matka business.” Another former IPS officer said, “There were cases against him as matka was illegal. However, normally it would be difficult to establish his role, as he was right at the top of the chain and on most occasions, those running the operations would be arrested,” the officer said.

Another senior officer said that Khatri was quite close to several politicians, policemen and even Bollywood actors. “He had moved on from the matka business and Suresh Bhagat, who was eventually murdered, had taken over his place as the person who ran the matka business.”

A friend of Khatri said that in the last few years, too, he could not stay away from betting and was seen at the Mahalaxmi Race Course.

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