The game of cards

by Rajbir Deswal

ENTERTAINMENT activity, as simple as playing cards, has always been vulnerable to mischief and cheating. We set gestures with the partner, to let him know our side of the game. It ranged from winking, raising brows, putting a finger on the lips, showing teeth, stroking hair, arranging fingers—one, two, three—behind the cards to convey the number, besides humming and brandishing a card as if it was a trump, even if it was not.

Cards are said to have been discovered by the Chinese who then played the game with leaves. The game spread to other eastern countries later. The number of cards in a pack being 52 is also said to be having some symbolism with the number of weeks in a year; as is the number of cards in one deal — being 13— thought to be associated with the single lunar cycle, ascending or descending. Yes, they seem to have some relevance to time, at least in killing it, or making good use of it — enjoying the indulgence.

Poker, bridge, rummy, flash, and our own desi games like paploo, taploo, sweep, pata-daab, kot-piece, teen-do-paanch, athee-satee and teen-patti are some of the games known to me, but I also like patte-pe-patta when you take out a card from your hand and, without knowing it, open it on the anvil-spread . If your other partner, by the same process, deals another card which matches yours, then the entire heap of unmatched cards is his gain.

I also wonder who called the two additional blank cards with a funny figure on them which can be substituted for any lost or torn off card as jokers! The die-hard card players would not mind carrying on with a pack gone unusable due to over-use — the hard to separate old cards. The corners of this pack are rounded. But a typical mark of a card, and an important one at that, is something that the entire group discounts, for its being thus known, since they can’t afford a new pack.

One good thing about the cards is their simple calculations. And when you repeat them time and again, you almost seem to have mastered the art of addition, subtraction and multiplication. And there is yet another thing in our desi deals which is called ‘tashan’. It implies a fad or an obsession which, committed or omitted, has its desired effect on one’s game, in his own understanding of things. No obstruction in the execution of a ‘tashan’ is easily tolerated by the inflicted players.

Some people are known to be experts, and they are much in demand in a gamble. It’s mostly the sleight of hand that works. Some are considred to be lucky as well and they are trusted by others to play as pawns and proxies for them—being lucky. Dark goggles and colourful dices, counters and coins go with the game of cards in casinos and clubs. I don’t know in a deal if it’s the shuffling of cards that plays the trick or something else, but some die-hard players always win. Those who play a blind game are more risk bearing, or, may be, they are too confident of their moves and treasures.

Spade, heart, club, diamond, ace, king, queen, jack, or even our own badshah, begum, ghulam, ikka have given birth to many sayings, idioms and proverbs.

I recall from my college days when in the boys’ hostel a card-game-afflicted fellow knocked at his partner’s room past midnight, smoking puffs and walking half in sleep, almost not being able to bear with the sense of loss at a defeated deal the just gone evening, telling him—“Ramphal, jai tu wa paan ki begum nahin chalta to hum jeet gaye they!” (If only you had not used that Queen of Hearts, Ramphal, we were sure to win!).

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