Playing Cards in an iPod Generation

March 25, 2007
Shantanu Dutta

As I move around the city of Delhi, I come across two kinds of people. In the seedy Nehru Place area of Delhi, where I have my office, the lunch break sees every empty space occupied by groups of men squatting on newspapers.

They are laughing and chatting among themselves as they play cards and exchange easy gossip in an atmosphere of easy and effortless camaraderie. The sight of people crowding out narrow aisles by squatting and idling away their time is by playing cards is not a pleasant one, especially as the lunch breaks look rather extended at the expense of the stated working hours.

Besides, I was brought up in a culture which considers playing cards an abomination and a hobby fit only for the dissolute. In my family, cards games were considered just a whisker's leap away from the practically unforgivable sin of gambling. Although I don't relish several things about card games and that is probably ingrained in me, I cannot but notice the fellowship and friendship that it generates and sustains.

In the evening, I meet an altogether group of people as I travel back home in my chartered bus. This is a different crowd and a wired crowd, in the sense that all or most of the passengers in the bus have a pair of wires sticking out of their ears which disappear some where into their clothes.

No, the passengers are not all wearing hearing aids or appliances; they are just immersed in their own private world, the wires disappearing into discreetly or indiscreetly kept mobile phones or music players. Most have mobile phones which have at least an in-built FM Radio and many have an mp3 player built in too. Most of the affluent ones do not use chartered buses but a few who do flash their snazzy Apple iPods or Sony Mp3 players or their garish Chinese imitations.

The difference between the people who I see in the afternoon and the ones I travel back with could not be starker.

The first lot is mostly people who are in their late forties or fifties. Most appear not to be gizmo savvy, and indeed if this crowd owns mobile phones, they are obviously not hopelessly in love with it. No wires follow them around as they hunker down with their wornout playing cards on staircases and aisles. Theirs is a parallel universe where companionship, friendship and camaraderie are everything and the fulcrum around which their lives revolve.

Even though card playing is not the healthiest of pastimes, it certainly provides human connectivity. The evening crowd is self immersed. Each one is tuned in - to Radio Mirchi or Radio City or their Himesh Reshammiya music track. It is a self contained, atomized universe devoid of any neighborly conversation. The FM channels are all full of call-in programs and the telephone lines seem to be chock full of callers wanting to chat up the anonymous Radio Jockeys but there is no conversation happening across people.

The medium of diversion in the middle aged crowd of the afternoon is a cheap pack of cards; in the passengers of the evening bus, it is the ubiquitous mp3 player. Neither an addiction to a pack of cards nor an addiction to a radio channel can be termed healthy.

But whereas cards seem to allow for bonding, comradeship and companionship to develop and flourish, the FM radios and the iPod develop isolationism, individualism and an atomization leading to an increasing culture of independence and of having little use or sensitivity to the other, to the neighbor whom I am called to love. A pack of cards or an iPod dangling from the neck - the jury is sill out on which is more the damaging of the two.

Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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March 25, 2007
01:31 PM

Loved the article. Thanks

Temple Stark
March 26, 2007
09:44 PM

You hit on an aspect of society that is going to be a societal ill for a long time - more and more people are only connecting online, or just connecting to themselves, rather than facing the new of strangers. It will filter down to being able to deal effectively with people in more organic, natural social situations.

It can be argued many of these people are those of the post who would havew trouble connecting with anyone at all. I could see that as well.

BTW, I got here by searching for playing cards in Google News. It's the top result. Of course, i've been here before as Aaman will attest. (I collect playing cards, and have well over 1,000 decks.)

March 27, 2007
09:54 PM


I think playing cards v/s listening to your Ipods is more of an economic/class statement. As you move to the middle/upper class the level of human contact decreases as the gadgets increase.
The same thing can be seen in developed countries e.g in NYC even making eye contact inthe subway is considered rude.
So I guess it comes with the turf.

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