Mahjong, Anyone?


Isn’t it funny how we conjure up images when we hear certain words?

Missionary, for example, you know, those people who wear socks with sandals or no makeup and last decade’s fashion. Sitting in the jungle, tapping a tambourine to Kumbaya and praying the natives don’t get restless – or hungry.

What about, mahjong – that Chinese game played with tiles and moves such as pong, chow and kung.  Pong-Chow-Kung, definately has a Chinese flavour about it.

Now say, mah – jong.

Mouth wide open for ‘mah’ and then drop your jaw to the floor for ‘jong’.


The correct pronunciation isactually with a hard j but it suffers from hyper-foreignism. Much like the character, Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances who insists her name is pronounced bouquet. Similarly people use a pseudo-French pronunciation for the retailer Target as if it is a boutique.

During the Raj, the British excelled in effecting foreign parlance  with words like Raj, Taj Mahal and mahjong: exquisitely elongating the first vowel  but the Hindu pronounces these same words with a short sharp  j.

I was born for hyper-foreignisms and I am so glad I can use them with gay abandon here in India!

Whenever I hear the word, mahjong, I picture ladies in 1930’s style hats playing the game whilst sipping a gin and tonic, sitting under a ceiling fan  somewhere in the  colonies and  complaining about the heat.

“Oh, the heat is dreadful this year!”

“Yes, Alistair promised to take me up to Shimla but that wretched boss won’t let him go and I’m tired of holidaying on my own. ”

“Well, all Carl ever thinks of is his work; he comes home so tired I might as well be a fly on the wall, so I am  venturing up to Darjeeling until the end of September”

“Oh, Darjeeling  darling, splendid indeed! May I join you Carol? I can always do Shimla another time. Let’s say we all go up together!”

“Girls, I would love to join you but I must visit the boys in London and Phillip is off to Hong Kong and Shanghai this month.”

“Celeste, poor dear, do you see Phillip at all?”

“Mustn’t grumble Felicity, after all, when anyone asks me what I am doing here, I reply, spending my husband’s money, of course!”

Chortle. Chortle.

I do exaggerate but often I hear similar conversations  every Wednesday afternoon playing mahjong. We meet in a nice hotel, some of us ‘do’ lunch first and then we sit at tables set up in a cosy corner. Mahjong is often played with money but as gambling is banned in India (apart for a few casinos in Goa) it is best to play it where one can be seen.

I love the game. It is a game of strategy and chance and there is something elegant about playing with tiles covered in Chinese characters. There really isn’t  much time for chatter during the game as you need to stay focused – just like in a game of rummy, you have to see what tiles are being thrown out and whether your game play is still viable. We play for three hours with a coffee break – the gin and tonics are pure fantasy.

I never play with the same group of ladies as there is always somebody flying out to somewhere over the rainbow.

They go to renovate their home in Provence or Spain (seriously!) or to shop in Singapore or Hong Kong, visit their children in boarding school or

Hyacinth Bucket

Hyacinth Bucket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

simply tag along while their husbands attend business meetings in New York. (I did the New York thing back in 2007, lucky me!)

At Mahjong, you find out where you are placed in the pecking order of expats but we are all friendly and unaffected, well some of us are, darling.


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