In a suite at a Mumbai five-star hotel, a group of twentysomething men—all scions of influential business families—are having one of their thrice-weekly sessions of Flush that begin a month before Diwali. Among them is Vishal, son of a prominent family of film producers. "Our group is playing about 20 per cent higher than last year," says Vishal. "The stockmarket has done well, so has business, so we can all take higher risks." At the end of a night, losses typically range from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, he says. Karan Kambli, son of a business tycoon, is one of the regulars at these sessions; he says he's down Rs 4.5 lakh this season. "I'm going to head off to London this weekend—it's cheaper," he jokes. In fact, NRIs from London are flying over in droves for the Diwali cards sessions in Mumbai and Delhi. Just last week, two prominent socialites inform us that the world's richest Indian, L.N. Mittal, was seen enjoying himself at Delhi's Diwali parties.
What happened to the good old Diwali card parties characterised by booze, bonhomie and a little flutter around someone's dining table? "There are no taash ki rani parties any more," laments tireless Mumbai party animal Kishen Mulchandani. "You cannot play with Rs 2,000-5,000 now. You have to play for at least 2 lakh to 5 lakh." Confirms Vishal: "This year, the party scene is 70 per cent down. The serious kind of gambling get-togethers are on the up and up." Shobha Deepak Singh, a daughter of the Charat Ram family of industrialists whose Diwali card party is an institution on Delhi's social calendar, also decries the growing trend towards serious gambling for big stakes: "They say that on Diwali night Lakshmi can come to your house any moment, so we stay awake all night playing cards to be ready to greet her when she arrives. That tradition, that spirit of playing cards on Diwali has got lost."