My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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14 November 2012

Can't read my, can't read my p-p-poker face

I'm back from my Diwali weekend in Bombay! It was awesome, as always. Although there is something to be said about the romance of Diwali in Delhi, North India just takes the festival one step further, plus the lights and the change of season, it's actually chilly without being COLD-cold. But since my parents were away, I went home to "other" family, ie, the Good Thing, and we had a lovely time.

Good morning!
The two of us hosted a Diwali party together and even a game of teen patti, which I forgot to get tokens for, so we all wound up playing with, um, lentils. Yup, little teeny tiny pieces of daal. This made winning fun (NOT) especially when you kept dropping the pieces and cries of "I lost a lentil!" were quite common.

Here are my abbreviated teen patti rules, since it turns out a lot of people don't automatically know it. More people should move to Delhi where this stuff is taught in your cradle.

1) Everyone gets three cards. (Not dealing with the variation version here, just straight up.)
2) You can win in a number of ways, but mostly by bluffing your way to the end. Unlike me, who never bets till I have good cards, which is a tell that most people figure out after round five. Oh well, I still won. Take that!
3) The lowest way to win is with a "tops" or a high card. Play with a face.
4) Then there's a pair, two of the same kind.
5) Then there's an impure sequence: 6, 7, 8 for example, but of different suits.
6) Then there's a pure sequence: same as above, but with the same suit.
7) And then there's a trail--three of the same card. An ace trail is as high as you can get, and if you get dealt this (VERY RARE) everyone has to give you a pre-stipulated amount of "luck money".

And that's pretty much it. No complexities, like poker, making it an easier game to play when you're drunk. (Unless I've left something out, in which case please add in the comments. As I'm sure you will anyway.)

I stopped playing cards during Diwali around the same time that the stakes started to go up in all the cards parties I attended. I'd go to a house party and wind up Rs 2,000 poorer, and that's only because I stopped playing after I lost that much. People wind up chucking their car keys in the middle of the table, and legend has it that Priya Cinema was won during a game of teen patti. Of course, there's no legal way to claim your winnings, but considering some people attend Diwali parties with briefcases full of money, I'm guessing legalities aren't really a consideration.

Back in the day, one of the best cards parties I attended was in college, at the house of a classmate. She had several games going on, and for the poorer among us, a table with Rs 1 and Rs 2 stakes. No one could bet higher than Rs 10. I cleaned up that night, even with my paltry winnings. People used to have two tables a lot, and then that practice slowly seemed to fade away. (For my own party in Bombay, we had Rs 5 and Rs 10 stakes, Rs 100 buy in, and no bets higher than Rs 50. Everyone--even people who lost--left without feeling bereft.)

Then it became less about the cards (which I couldn't afford anyway, not with no-cap tables, and people playing a round betting as high as Rs 5,000 on a Rs 100 game) and more about the socialising. You went for the kebabs and the chat. Someone else was always not into it and not playing. Once, when I lost all my money, I sat next to an ex boyfriend, who very kindly loaned me some more and I won it all back plus more. (But I didn't feel okay about keeping it, so I think I gave it all back? Or something.) It made me a bit pissed off though, people casually tossing large sums of money on the table. And OBVIOUSLY, everyone took it super seriously, so it became less about chilling with your friends and more this activity, where everyone got this serious, strained look and you bet like you were bartering away your life savings. And then someone always got very angry and had to be placated. All sorts of superstitions arose from then as well,  like:

never touch someone else's dealt cards


the person to the left of the dealer blows on the pack before he/she cuts it


don't count your money till the end of the game.

I'm not joking, these were real things. People got FURIOUS if you transgressed those rules. Sometimes Delhi reveals its... Delhiness and it's so disgusting, you wonder why you live here. Maybe my disdain was apparent, because the last cards party I was invited to was five years ago. People just stopped asking me and in a way, I was sorta glad (despite missing out on all the fun) because then I didn't have to go out socially and spend all my money or feel bad about not betting everything I had. I'm a naturally cautious person about my money, not a great better, and so while everyone else was getting pissed off about card things, I guess I was also getting pissed off about card things.  (It could've been worse, with kids nowadays apparently playing farmhouse roulette and blackjack with gold plated cards.)

What I hope are the last few bombs are going off outside, and another Diwali is over. With it, another lot of card games too till next year. I'm sure somewhere in this city, in quite a few homes, some dude is punching a wall because he lost all his money. Some dude is buying an iPhone 5 because he won another dude's money. We're taking it as a portent that Lakshmi favours those who win (and I could do with some of that favouring!)

Not all parties are the same though, I have to add as a caveat towards the end. Some are just what they promise to be: a fun way to spend time with your friends and family. Food, drinks, sweets. Some cards, but that's not the highlight of the evening.

Happy Winter! Happy Festive Season! Welcome to Delhi! 


  1. Lucky you(about the money)!
    Bombay is more about the lights(thank goodness) and yes,the noise(no thank goodness)...
    Happy (Belated?) Diwali to you too!

  2. Noooo! You left out colour!
    When you get cards from the same suit, it's a colour, above a pair, but smaller than an impure sequence.


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