Last week, as we sneaked surreptitiously from the watchful vigil of the sub-junior brigade to buy a small batch of smoke-emitting, noise-producing, child-angering firecrackers, it became clear that we’d have to shift over to some other means of zinging up our Diwali. A plentifully available alternative quickly presented itself.
In Delhi, Diwali is marked by the annual eruption of the Flash Party. And no, a Flash Party isn’t what you might think it to be, so kindly keep your raincoats buttoned (though going by the quantity of cleavage and jewellery you can see at these dos, your guess may not be far wrong).
Flash (that's what it is called in the National Capital Region) is a variation of Flush – an ancient card game now almost unknown in Delhi circles, in which three cards were dealt to each player and a consistent set of rules decided who the winner would be. Flash deviates from this quite significantly. ‘Variation’, not consistency, is the essence of Flash, and ‘normal’ is considered to be quite abnormal, old-fashioned and having a little B. O.
The Flash Party comes in two major variants: the Sit-Down model and the Squat-Down model. Sit-Down Flash is played around a table with the players sitting in chairs. This is often preferred by serious players who play long sessions and find it convenient to keep spare briefcases under their chairs.
Squat-Down Flash is played in an arena formed by a well-mattressed, large bedsheet. The players squat, kneel or sprawl in a circle with their counters and beverages placed before them. This form is favoured by amateurs, who like the informality; and by casual voyeurs, who like the occasional glimpse of cleavage. Stakes at the Squat-Down table (or Squat-Down Bedsheet, to be exact) are usually lower and the decibel levels usually higher than at the Sit-Down table.
Whichever form of the game you choose, the socially accepted modus operandi is essentially the same:
Begin by instructing a waiter to get you a nourishing beverage. Scotch on the rocks is usual for men, ladies often add water or soda to the whisky or they drink wine. Significantly, this is the only occasion when Delhi sips its whisky instead of gulping it by the barrel; the danger of a large inflow of whisky leading to a large outflow of cash is a serious deterrent.
Having obtained your beverage, firmly grasp the deck in one hand and proceed to deal out as many cards as possible. Concentrate fiercely on dealing and completely ignore any questions that fellow-players may throw your way. Then, when almost the entire pack has been dealt out, place the remainder solemnly in the centre, look up and finally address your audience.
“Ok, please pay attention,” you say. “The game is 'Rangoon Ragamuffin'. All red cards are alternating jokers, all even-numbered cards, except queens, are skipping jokers. Picture cards are flipping jokers, unless you have a pair, in which case they become effing jokers and the person sitting next to you must compulsorily fold. Got it?”
The exact specifications you lay down don’t really matter, as long as your Variation is complicated and runs into at least three lines of explanation.
In Flash, like in a great whisky, complexity is a virtue. The person who deals the most convoluted Variation is automatically assumed to be the most evolved player. In that sense, Flash closely resembles Abstract Art. If very few people understand your Variation, then it must be truly noble and exalted – a Variation to be honoured in history and celebrated in song. Flash folklore is full of migraine-inducing legends like the ‘Chataai’, ‘Waterfall’, ‘Football’ and its even more complicated cousin ‘Rolling Football’.
Then there are the names. Exotic nomenclature works for Variations in exactly the same way that it does for cocktails. So you have entry-level Variations with names like ‘AK-47’ (aces, kings, 4s and 7s are jokers), ‘1942’ (aces, 9s…), ‘1942 – A Love Story’ (all hearts too) and ‘Muflis’ (crap is king). After which you graduate to the more tantalizing titles – ‘Fours, Whores And One-Eyed Jacks’, ‘Kissing And Missing’, ‘In & Out’ and ‘Rangoon Ragamuffin’. But beware: in the midst of all this, if you express a preference for the plain vanilla, true Flashistas will look at you as they would at a teetotaler – with a mix of disdain, pity and suspicion.
Variations are popular for a very simple reason – they break the monotony and introduce an element of surprise and wild possibility. I’ve often wondered what would happen if we extended the Doctrine of Variation to other walks of life.
Cricket has already made a beginning with Twenty 20, and Five-A-Side Football is gaining global popularity. I’m making a case for spreading the same spirit a bit wider around Diwali. We could have Bowler’s Choice cricket, where the bowler decides the rules for that over (“Batsmen play left-handed, and fielders can only run backwards” or “One-Tip-One-Hand if ball is hit to leg side”). Chess is simply crying out for some imaginative Variations to make it more appealing to mango people (“Players to change sides after every 5 moves” and “Doubles Chess” could become popular Variations). Or how about traffic signals? “Red means stop, green means go, amber means smile insanely at the car next to you.”
So here’s the message that Variations have for us, I guess: Try something crazy, just for a little while. It probably won’t work, but it might be fun.
Happy The Wally.