Can there be a Diwali without cards? Perish the thought. Having said that, it’s astonishing how many people regard playing cards as vaguely immoral or claim that they have never played ever and have no idea how to. But for many of us, there can be no festival of lights without one (or better still, several) taash parties. For most north Indian families, the memories would go back to childhood.
Think traditional card parties at your grandparents’ place. The children beside themselves with excitement, hopping about around the living room, which was usually cleared of the furniture. Thick gaddas, covered with crisp white sheets, and ringed by fat bolsters, on the floor. The menfolk trooping in, carrying bundles of crackling notes and small heavy bags full of coins. The women, resplendent in festive silk saris, following in their wake. Everybody arranging themselves comfortably on the gaddas. Whisky tumblers and kabab platters arriving (in fact, I suspect they never stopped arriving; and somewhere inside the house, there was some poor harried soul supervising the constant flow of food and drink).
A great deal of noise: mischievous banter (so-and-so winning only because he was seated next to so-and-so bhabhi); much laughter; loud rejoicing / moaning when someone lost / won a hand.
Different ways of playing
Someone playing blind all the time. Someone else making ‘seeing’ the cards into a minor ritual (opening them very slowly, one card at a time, eyes narrowed in concentration – and hope?). Always someone (usually one of the younger uncles) playing recklessly and losing consistently till one brilliant hand would turn the tide. Someone else (usually an older aunt) playing cautiously and conservatively, never going ‘blind.’
Apart from being plenty of fun, playing cards for Diwali was considered necessary – otherwise Lakshmi wouldn’t deign to visit your home. Also, as mythologists say, playing cards serves as a reminder that life is a game of chance; you may win but you may also lose.
So that’s the way card parties should be done at home – with floor seating on gaddas, and a never-ending supply of drinks and snacks. For people who aren’t used to sitting on the floor (tsk tsk), there will have to be tables around which they can sit and play.
For the uninitiated, a word of kindly advice. Diwali taash is not rocket science. Nor is it the equivalent of doing a PhD on the mating habits of deep-sea creatures in the Pacific Ocean.
It is fun. Period.
Here are the rules of the game:
* Don’t play for high stakes.
Apparently there are very many serious Diwali gamblers out there in the stratosphere (mostly in farmhouses I believe) who play for thousands and lakhs of rupees, but that is not fun.
That’s hard core gambling and conjures up images of glassy-eyed, tense men and women carrying portable banks on their persons and playing compulsively all night till they stagger off to their cars (which, hopefully, they have not lost by then).
* By all means play the normal teen patti, but do try some crazy variations. Their entertainment value is formidable
(see box). If you’re inventive, you can even create variations of your own.
* Shuffle the pack well, otherwise everyone will end up getting the same cards they got in the previous rounds.
* Screaming and shouting is mandatory. (“Oh my god! He’s got a traill!” followed by a prolonged period when everyone expresses their shock and awe by yelling simultaneously.)
* Make sure you create the appropriate mood for the party with candles, diyas, flowers.
* Play only once a year, only on Diwali.
Try these variations
* Distribute four cards instead of three. The worst, most useless card can be discarded. Or distribute two cards – the
third card that fits best with your hand has to be imagined by the player
* In AK47, all aces, kings, fours and sevens are jokers
* In 1942 A Love Story, all aces, nines, fours and twos are jokers and everyone must speak in Hindi. If someone says a single word in English (even if it is ‘cards’ or ‘pack’ or ‘oh no’), he / she is out of the game
* Matha is a mad variation. Distribute one card to each person. Without looking at the card, everyone holds it against their foreheads, with the cards facing outwards. This means that everyone except you can see your card. The highest card wins, and everyone must bet on their card without actually seeing it. It is vastly entertaining to see people
betting away with a low value card such as a two or three stuck on their foreheads
* In Lalle Mein Kalla, Kalle Mein Lalla, the sole red (hearts or diamonds) card amidst black cards (spades or clubs) becomes a joker and vice versa