Diwali 2018: Taash lovers tell us why the game of Teen patti lights up the festival
Mumbai's ardent taash lovers talk of why a game of teen patti lights up Diwali for them
If legend is to be believed, then Goddess Parvati played dice with Lord Shiva on Diwali. She then declared that whoever gambled on Diwali would prosper throughout the year. This tradition, which involves playing teen patti (flush) or rummy, and now with poker being added to the mix, continues till today. We spoke to four landmark taash party throwers of Mumbai who share how the passing years have just added more fervour to these much looked-forward-to get-togethers.
'Mumbai slowly warming up to card games'
Javed Sanadi, Choreographer
Choreographer Javed Sanadi, who got his major break in the form of dance reality show Jhalak Dikhla Jaa Season II, never underestimates the gravitas of the exclusive-to-Diwali ritual - the quintessential card parties. The taash parties at his home will enter the 10th year this season. "Mumbai is slowly picking up on this. For a very long time, Delhi has been openly welcoming this ritual, given the luxury of space that they have there. I had attended one party in Delhi in 2012 and everything was hosted at a grand level. They have big houses, so they open up their lawns and make arrangements for at least 50 guests that are seated on six different tables to play poker or any other card games," he says. Javed, however, says his parties are more casual, aiming to spend time with a handful of close friends and family.
He adds, "I never limit my guest list to seasoned players. The point is only to have fun and not take the game too seriously. From novice to experienced ones, I invite about 15 to 20 of them over to my Lokhandwala house each year." The last two years have been all the more special after Javed got married. He now gets help from his wife Ankita. "The parties have evolved now. I had a Thai restaurant once and love to cook the cuisine, so we basically spoil our guests with innovative food." Javed believes in lending a personal touch to these parties, so he never hires a professional service to get a poker table for guests.
"We play teen patti and variations like AK47, joker, discard one and so on. If people wanted to be serious about these games, they would have gone to a casino. But people who know me very well also know that the vibe at our house is very different. Everyone comes in a Diwali spirit, dressed up traditionally, only to have a great time and not to make money." However, he does reveal that there are some party poopers who leave the game when the stakes get too high. "That is not how it should be. This is when the host must intervene and lighten up everybody's mood," he says.
'At 10, I learnt cards from my grandmom'
Rita Kapoor, teacher and home chef specialising in desserts
Having learnt cards from her grandmother at the age of 10, home baker Rita Kapoor, has been organising card parties at her residence for the last 25 years. They are usually held a day after Diwali. Wife of a power loom business owner, the Thane resident who makes and sells baked goodies, and teaches cooking as well, says playing cards is the time she has the most fun. "Can you imagine, I started off playing with 10 paise?" she laughs. Her parties at her Thane home, which includes extended families, are usually made up of 40-odd people. They make a set of two groups of 10-12 people each and play multiple variations of teen patti.
"We fight a lot. The rules are also different according to each one!" As Kapoor, 50, is the cook of the family, the menu is a typical Punjabi one, one that barely has any vegetarian dishes. "There is biryani, chicken tikka, fish tandoori... But no alcohol, only soft drinks. One has to focus on the game, and also all the guests have to drive back home, right?" One thing that is non negotiable though and that is that everyone needs to dress up in their finest. "It's Diwali after all."
'Born with taash in our blood'
Hiral Malde, radio show producer
The tradition of playing cards in my family has been on since before I was born. We are born with this in our blood," laughs Hiral Malde, 33. The Sion Chunabhatti resident, who is part of a Gujarati joint family, has been watching her parents, family, friends, neighbours, trooping into the house every Diwali to play taash as far back as her memory serves. "My father was one of seven brothers, and they all work in the power loom business.
Every year, there is a party at my dad's house, and usually around 50-60 people turn up." They have three separate tables set up, the highest stake to be won is set at Rs 5,000 per hand. "So, we play variations of teen patti, and now, poker too! That's one major change through the years. Usually, men sit at the Rs 5,000 tables, then my aunties and the women play at tables with stakes set at Rs 3,000," she says. The food is fast-to-eat finger food like bhajiyas, finger chips and pop corn and there is alcohol through the night. "We start at 6 pm and go on till 7 am. That's why none of us dress up, we make it a pyjama party!"
Ask her if people get into brawls and she laughs, "Yes, there are always those who shout foul when someone cheats. My cousin Shipla always loses, and swears every year that it's her last year of playing. Cards bring us together. Through the years I have seen my great-grandmother play, and also my youngest nephew, who is just 11 years old. Isn't that something?"
'This year will be grander with over 150 guests'
Avi Mittal, director, Super Fight League
For Avi Mittal, there is no Diwali without cards. While he has been hosting taash parties for about a decade now, the one being held on Sunday is a special one as he has roped in a couple of mixologists to make exotic cocktails for over 150 guests.
He shares, "Each year, the parties are held differently. Mostly they are at my house in Chembur or we book a banquet, depending on who is free and when. This year, we have found a rooftop at a friend's building that will be turned into a party place. Since such evenings are always about more than just cards, our mixologists will prepare cocktails for the guests between 5 pm and 10 pm. Later on, we'll have DJ Aqeel playing for us. From 10.30 pm onwards, we have decided to pipe down the music a bit. This is when a special Sufi singer will entertain the guests, after which the card games will begin."
Apart from his friends from the corporate world, Avi's customary guests every year include Bollywood actor Arbaaz Khan, Tiger and his sister Krishna Shroff,
among other celebrities. "Even though we sometimes end up inviting more than 100 people, they are all usually close friends. All of them truly enjoy playing teen patti and variations like AK47, red and black, among others," he adds.
Going by the trend, Mittal has gone above and beyond this year and got customised poker chips and cards with his logos on them. "This year, we have really tried doing things differently. We also will be serving Indian food with a wide range of BBQ items. Furthermore, as a token of appreciation, we will be giving out Diwali hampers to our guests before they exit the venue." Avi's mother Meenakshi will be flying down from London to oversee the arrangements for the impending party. His father, Anil Kumar Mittal, who is a food enthusiast, will be looking into the presentation of the cuisine, like every year.
Bollywood's love affair with taash
Where Diwali is concerned, Bollywood can't be left behind. Balaji head honcho Ekta Kapoor's part is one of B-Town's most popular ones, attended by Karan Johar, Neetu Singh, Siddharth Malhotra, Sonakshi Sinha, Varun Dhawan, Shraddha Kapoor etc. Director Rakesh Roshan's party on the other hand is a mix of the veterans, including Rishi Kapoor, Prem Chopra and Jeetendra, who reportedly play stakes ranging between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 50 lakh. The usually reticent Aamir Khan also hosts a flashy party, even though he plays safe at the card table.
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