Tom Sloper's amazing Mumbai Mahjong Adventure
- Published on Saturday, 02 May 2009 00:46
- Written by Tom Sloper
Sushila Singh found me when I was with Activision, writing the mahjong FAQs. That was ten years ago, and we've kept up a mahjong correspondence ever since. Last fall she asked me if I would come to India if she could get me a plane ticket. I figured she was talking through her hat, but sure, I said. If you get me a plane ticket I'll come. She was sure she could, so she pressed me for a timeframe. I would have preferred to make such a trip during the Christmas-New Year break between semesters (I teach game design and production at the University of Southern California), but many of her ladies would be out of town for the holidays too.
Waiting until after the spring semester was no good -- it would be the height of monsoon season, she said. Rainy and very hot. So I opted for Spring Break (mid-march), when it would be just hot. Lo and behold, a plane ticket arrived. Sushila is very good at plotting and planning. She'd taught mahjong to dozens of ladies, and 40 of them chipped in to buy me a ticket.
She met me at the airport and took me to her home in southern Mumbai. I could stay in her mahjong room (formerly her son's room, before he married and started his own family). I got to meet Sushila's husband Pretap ("Pete") and daughter Abhilasha, and live-in servant Padam.
After a day of acclimatization, I had a chance to meet Sushila's Monday group (minus one, who I was replacing that day). I had a crash course in Mumbai-style mahjong. Based on British/Western rules, their game changes rules each round.
East. A modified Classical-style "four sets and a pair."
South. Special Hands (British/Western): Gate Hands, Snake Hands, Jewel Hands, Unique Wonders (13 Orphans), Crochet (Knitting), Gertie's Garter, Greta's Garden, etc. (Note that the Indian Army Wives game forces the player to play just one specific special hand, determined randomly by the draw of a card from a deck, while Mumbai rules permit playing whatever special hand suits the tiles dealt.)
West. Clean hands (Half Flush), pungs only (no chows) - includes a goulash exchange of tiles preceding play.
North. Dealer's Choice. Each dealer, in turn, declares how her game should work, and what tile acts as joker, if any. Imagination is the rule of the day.
There are other unique aspects to Mumbai mahjong, like the tiles being dealt to the players by the player sitting by the dealing wall, the use of a kitty, and the ability to "buy" a discard and take it into the hand.
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