Old Lucknow, venue: small shops or tea seller spots, time: any time of the day or evening around a dozen of chachas and dadus along with 2-3 lads are engrossed on a piece of paper in silence, uttering a word or two in between. You bet, why so much of effort in the scorching sun at this age,” why not, it’s a brain exercise our daily dose ‘Moamma’ like your gym, you sweat out over there and we do it here. We challenge the youngsters to compete with us and we will be glad to lose the game to them but you see it is very very difficult,” says confident Saem Hassan Rizvi, who is filling Moamma for the past 25 years.
Moamma- never heard of that! Beginning of Moamma though could not be traced but this riddle game published in Hindi and Urdu gained fame when the famous Urdu magazine Shama started printing it in the pre-Independence era. Whereas earlier the number of copies that Shama was selling was in thousands but later on when 4 coupons of Moamma were started on the last page of every edition, the sale rose to lakhs. Moamma is a puzzle game, comprising fill in the gaps with appropriate word or correcting the wrong sentence from Urdu Literature, History and other subjects. Words with same meaning but different references impose a lot of challenge in the game. There is a certain fee for filling Moamma, which depends on number of lines one wants to fill. The more guess work you want to apply, higher is the fee. This fee is distributed amongst the winners, compilers, collections centres and publishers in various percentages at the time of result declaration.
Post partition, in 1947 Moamma was touching the height of glamour. Senior journalist Ahmad Ibrahim Alvi recalls, “Shama was the first
Urdu magazine publishing and selling so many copies. All credit goes to Moamma for which people waited like mad.”Such was the craze of Moamma that the booksellers tore away the coupon page from Shama and sold the magazine at a lower price. Later they gave away Moamma pages at a higher price to the people, thus earning huge profits.
There were collection centres in different parts of the country, where the fee amount was collected and winners were declared later on. The magazine maintained high level of transparency in the game for around 3 decades. Once Moamma was finalised by the help ofmore than two compilers, without their mutual interaction their answers were sealed in the bank locker, only to be opened at the time of result announcement. The fame of the game gave birth to opponents; a case was filed to ban Moamma claiming it to be a kind of gamble.
Moamma compiler Muktida shares his knowledge with TosNews, “In 1960 the High Court declared Moamma to be a game of skill and not of chance. Shama magazine also labelled it a game of knowledge in High court.”
(What is the present status of Moamma…To be continued…)