From left, Abhi Shah, Maunish Shah, Maunish’s son-in-law Varun Shah, Maunish’s daughter Varija Shah, wife Aruna Shah and daughter-in-law Anjani Shah
What would you do if you found a lottery ticket worth a million dollars but knew that the rightful owner was someone else, who did not know?
That is the dilemma an Indian-American family from Springfield, Massachusetts faced. They took the honest way out, losing out on what would have been a lot of money, but winning a lot of hearts.
“I’m extremely happy,” Maunish Shah told indica News about returning the lottery ticket that could have made him a millionaire.
Shah, 54, is the owner of a family-owned convenience store in Springfield called the Lucky Spot. Ever since the Shahs made headlines for returning the million-dollar ticket to its rightful owner, the family has been seeing many new faces coming in to buy lottery tickets.
“People call it a lucky store, and say you guys are real heroes and honest people,” said Maunish.
Was it easy to return the ticket? “It wasn’t,” he admitted candidly. “It was very, very difficult to take this decision.”
It all started on March 26 this year when a woman named Leas Rose Fiega bought lottery tickets from Maunish’s wife, Aruna Shah, at the store.
Fiega, a regular customer at Lucky Spot, bought several tickets, including one from Diamond Millions that costs $30.
Fiega scratched the ticket, did not find the numbers, and gave it to Aruna for a second check. Aruna, too, missed it and the tickets went into the trash basket. Fiega, who was on her lunch break and in a hurry, left.
Ten days later, Maunish and Aruna’s son Abhi was doing a routine checkup of trashed tickets. He somehow thought to recheck the $30 ticket — which few people buy — and the world turned upside down for the family.
“My mom started crying,” Abhi said. “Anybody would. And I had all the chances of keeping the money. I had the chance of cashing the ticket… it was so good… anybody could have cashed in, you know.”
Abhi started dreaming about what million dollars can buy them. He promptly checked on the price of a Tesla.
He added: “If you have $1 million, that too from a throwaway ticket, what you would do? Keep it, right?”
They also thought of buying another store, and moving out of their rented two-bed apartment into a big house of their own with a swimming pool.
“We also talked about who would clean such a big house,” Abhi remembered, laughing.
Maunish, however, had a totally different view. “That night I stayed silent, I did not want to spoil their [his family’s] happiness,” he said.
He said he could not sleep.
“You can’t imagine what I was going through! I had my son’s career and future on one side and $1 million on the other… and I have to make sure he did not feel bad.”
Maunish said he did not want to force his son but explained to him “why he has to return the ticket.”
He did not want his son to take the decision under pressure.
“You know down the road, after a few years, he should not blame me that mujhe yeah paisa milta to mai kha se kaha pachuj jata [had I got that money it would have changed my life],” Shah said.
“I never wanted to claim that ticket,” he added. “From the beginning, never…thought this ticket is mine. I highlighted the ethics.”
The day after, Maunish asked the family: “Do you think we are doing justice to the woman who gave the ticket to check? If a person gives you to recheck the ticket it means she believes in you…”
He said a guilty conscience was a terrible think to bear, even with a million dollars in the bank.
The Shahs are from Surat. Maunish, who has a diploma in textile engineering and worked as a supervisor in Gujarat, told his son: “If it’s your destiny you will earn a million dollars. Look at your father, what did we bring to this country?”
“I have struggled a lot in life but never took a single penny from anyone,” Maunish said, sounding emotional and proud.
He asked his family why customers came to Lucky Spot. “Because they know we are honest people,” Maunish told his son, who works with the postal service.
“Still, Abhi did not agree. He and his mother were on side,” Maunish said.
He said he, however, knew that his son would listen to him, eventually.
The discussion was stressful, the Shahs admitted candidly.
“We did not sleep for two nights. We did not eat for two days. None of us felt like eating. We were under so much pressure, tension,” Abhi said.
Eventually, the family’s values won the day. Abhi’s call to his grandmother in Gujarat made him change his mind,
“Don’t tell Papa I called you,” Abhi told his grandmother. “Papa is saying to return the ticket and my wife said Papa is right and we should listen to him.”
Abhi, who came to the US when he was 18, is very close to his grandmother. He said grandmother reminded him about the values and culture she had instilled in Abhi.
“I grew up with my grandmother a lot,” said Abhi, asked why he obeyed his grandmother and father, eventually,
Abhi has no regrets about returning the ticket.
“When you are on deathbed you will remember all your past deeds; so would you like to remember something bad, and I don’t want to die thinking that!” he said.
“I am confident I did not lose the values, the culture, the moral, ethics — what I got from my parents, grandparents and teachers,” he said. “And if I did not lose it now, I don’t think I will lose it in the future.”
Abhi’s wife supported him in his decision.
The third day after they found the ticket, Abhi went to Fiega’s office and asked her
if she would like to stop by the store. She was tense; she asked him why. When she said she was working, Abhi told her to just stop doing what she was doing and to come with him to the store.
“When she saw the ticket she freaked out like crazy and hugged my dad for five
minutes,” said Abhi.
It was an emotional moment, with tears and laughter.
“She said whatever she will do would not be enough and the honesty we have shown is worth way more than these million dollars; that is what matters,” Abhi remembered.
He said the ticket went to the right person; Fiega at one point was on ventilator support, suffering from Covid-19.
Do they still think about that million-dollar ticket? “Not at all,” said Abhi. Life has been normal and they all are working, wife, mom, dad all are busy working.
“Look, we started everything from the scratch after coming to the US and did not ask anybody for money,”Abhi said. “We came to the US with $500 and worked at a gas store and five years ago bought this store.”
Maunish said there was peace at home now.
“The ticket created so much tension! You can’t imagine what you go through,” he said.
“Everything is normal and we are happy.”
Well, not everything is normal, Maunish admitted.
“People are calling from Dubai, from India,” he said, “and they cry and say how did you
do this. And some people say you are famous but you are not rich… many customers said that as well.”