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The Hunger of an Unfulfilled Dream – Mughal Ganjifa Cards

January 23, 2016 4 min read

Years ago, in 2006, I met a friend from high school. We used to be very close in school as only girls can be. And then life happened and we all went our merry ways. We’d catch up every now and then but with migrations and pressures of time … the catching up was rare and when we did meet up, we’d plug into each others lives to catch up on the years in between.

So at that 2006 meeting I mentioned my new interest in old things.

And after listening, she spoke about the one old thing that she had recently heard of – Ganjifa cards.  I had no idea what these were and she explained the little that she knew. I never came across any such cards in my journeys – I did not ask and the dealers did not tell me about these and so these remained in the recesses of things people know but do not bring up in conversation.

But it remained at the back of my mind.

When in moments of leisure I searched these up, I found that there is very little on the net about these. Every now and then a single old card comes up for sale but it was a very sparse market – not enough to excite people into creating forums or hold conferences on. Surely they must be thriving in museums and someday I’d see them somewhere – but my appetite would die out unfulfilled with the lack of material to feed off.

But again, the thought would remain at the back of my mind….

It was a question asked at the beginning of my collecting days and so a question that stayed with me all through the journey.

And over the years it took on the character of an unfulfilled dream.

Now at 50, maybe it is that my desires are fewer, wants less urgent and necessities all provided for – so unfulfilled dreams are rare. They are treasured – because now that feeling of hunger is elusive. Too often I roam the malls of Singapore and come back empty handed – as there is nothing that I want so badly that I can’t sleep at night!

And there were days when I’d dream about a pair of prussian blue corduroy pants that I’d seen in a store in Bandra. And then plan how I would collect the Rs.400 needed to buy them. Pocket money was negligible so I’d have to work as a sales promoter @ Rs. 36 for 8 hours for so many days, pack lunch from home so that I would not need to spend on food outside and voila – in roughly 10 days of work allotted to me over a month, I’d be able to buy those. 1982. The thrill of going to work, waiting for the sunrise, rushing to Bandra station to go to work, feeling ever so proud of being a part of the work force, and all adult-like and dreaming of those prussian blue corduroy pants, is unlike any other! Those were such adrenalin-filled days with the spirit on fire and the root of that was the hunger… extremely delicious hunger – relished not just in hindsight but also during those days. Some mornings on my walks these days, the sunrise has that same undefinable quality – there is that unbearable excitement of looking forward to something that has not revealed itself yet – but even in its unfathomable form this unrevealed event  provides a sense of urgency, a sense of discovery, a sense of purpose to keep hurtling myself at the future…

And at the root of that was the hunger of the unfulfilled dream.

An unfulfilled dream is a very very good thing.  One that is almost within reach – but just beyond it….

And Ganjifa cards were that for a long time.


A few pictures of the Kings and Wazirs that I am smitten by…


Click to view slideshow.


“There is no definitive reference as to when and where these playing cards were invented.  however, it is assumed that Mughal emperors brought these cards to India in the sixteenth century.  Once established, the cards spread to most regions of India either in the original form known as Mughal Ganjifa or its later Hindu form known as Dashavatara Ganjifa.  In June 1527 Babar, the first Mughal ruler sent Ganjifa cards to his friend in Sindh.  By the 16th century several different types of Ganjifa games had developed in India.  The Ain-i-Akbari gives details of cards and suit signs, described by Abul Fazl (Akbar’s biographer).  Akbar invented the present game of Mughal Ganjifa.   The standard playing cards of India are usually a set each of 96 cards of Mughal Ganjifa and of 120 or 144 cards of Dashavatara Ganjifa.  The suits are divided into strong and weak suits.  For example in the Mughal Ganjifa set, Taj, Safed, Samsher and Ghulam are strong suits while Chang, Surkh, Barat and Qimash are weak suits.” – Dr. Lochan


To the Irish Proverb ‘May you have Enough’

May  you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to make you happy

I would like to add – may you have enough unfulfilled dreams to keep you hungry.

For, hunger drives the spirit!



Jan 2016












Jan 2016











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