Rickshaw Race Yakuzas in India: loser chops off thumbs

My Wired News colleague Scott Carney in Chennai, India, just got back from covering a cross-country rickshaw deathrace. The name of his team? Curry in a Hurry. In the course of that story, he survived a potentially lethal ravine spill in a little autorickshaw racer with four occupants. More on that soon, his Wired piece is forthcoming. But while he was working on that one, he learned about a gruesome, utterly hardcore illegal race subculture in which the guy who finishes last has to cut off their own thumbs. Snip from Scott's blog:

Every year several drivers die on the all-or-nothing routes in pursuit of a week's worth of bragging rights and a small cash purse, but when the challenge gets heated the only acceptable stake is to risk the one appendage that separates humans from primates.

In Chennai there are several drag racing routes where local clubs of mechanics supe-up the two stroke engines and navigate their way at top speed through the city's confusing grid work of streets and alleys. One popular route is the journey from Elliot's beach to Mahibellipuram, 50 kilometers south. The driver I interviewed said that for a while in 2003 he was the local favorite as city's most skilled racer. He had won several races for small money in the last few weeks and was feeling unbeatable. Aiming to knock him down a few pegs, another racer offered to race him and put his thumb up on hid left hand up as stake. The loser would not only end up mutilated, but ostensibly never be able to drive a rickshaw again since it requires a thumb to work the clutch. He had a good lead in the final stretch of the run with the finish line in sight when the engine on his rickshaw overheated and died. His challenger sped past him and won his prize.

That evening he used the sickle shaped edge of a thengai kathi–a knife usually used to hack coconuts– to chop off the thumb on his left hand.

Link. Sssshhh! Listen. What's that sound, you ask? Hundreds of NASCAR he-men crying into their tea cozies.

Reader comment: Orangutans, gorillas, and howler monkeys who subscribe to BoingBoing's RSS feed all wanted to correct a goof in Scott's blog-post, but the bananas kept getting in the way of the keypad. On their behalf, Barry L. Ritholtz says,

Last I checked, primates had opposable thumbs.

I'd imagine what Scott meant was non-primates — then at worst he'd only be partially wrong — raccoons, otters and other creatures with very thumb-like appendages.

Lastly, other mammals do occasionally gnaw off a limb — but that's a life-saving maneuver to escape a trap. I know of no other creature so prideful, foolish and misguided that they disfigure themselves as a matter of ego . . .

Richard says,

This item will remind all Roald Dahl fans of the terrific short story, "Man From the South," in which betting stakes are raised to finger-threatening levels. Highly recommended for illustrating how the innocent thrill-seeker's ego convinces itself to put flesh at risk.

Kip Williams says,

The story was also adapted as an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" with Peter Lorre in the title role: Link.

Directed by Norman Lloyd (I was hoping Hitch might have directed it, but no).