Playing cards with Kings of India

One of the most precious memories that I have from my trip to India was the time we were traveling by train. Most of the time, my friends and I were killing time by playing cards. Those moments were a lot fun but not so much of strategy (from my part). That being said, I was very surprise when I discovered Kings of India, playing cards created by Bhavesh and Reena. The two talented designers, who come from Gujarat, a state on the west side of India, create designs that incorporate indian culture. Both born in England then moved to Canada, the couple felt the need to return to their roots.

« But both of our families still have quite strong links with British culture and have raised us with an understanding of our Indian heritage. We’ve always found it hard to explain when someone asks ‘where are you from?’ since we never know whether to say Canada, England or India. I suppose the answer is always all of the above. » -Reena, co-founder of Humble Raja

How does Indian culture influence your daily life?

The way Indian culture influences our day to day is probably most evident in our kitchen. We love cooking and our kitchen is filled with spices – from dried mango powder and chillies to masala for chai. Our language is also key, since Gujarati is the only means by which we can understand and speak with our grandparents. I’m sure our culture also informs our values such as our strong ties to family, our outlook on life and reminds us to keep an open mind. However, it can also be a double edged sword since cultural values can also impart certain societal expectations.

According to you, how Indian culture is perceived in North America?

Indian culture sometimes seems flattened down to butter chicken, bollywood and colourful saris – which is all good, but there is so much more to it that is worth discovering. The popularity of yoga and meditation has opened some interesting avenues into the philosophies in South Asian culture, but there are fascinating stories and histories, incredible crafts and architecture, beautiful languages and typography.. and so much more that we’re curious to learn more about.

How the idea of Humble Raja had come to your mind?

Growing up in Canada, I’ve always liked that people are happy to share their culture with one another. My friends were often fascinated by our food, clothing or traditions, and I used to be pretty shy about it or take it for granted, but their enthusiasm has made me appreciate my  heritage a lot more. As designers, we ended up pairing our passion for design with our interest in our culture to create Humble Raja. The more we explore, the more we want to share with others.

How do you make the selection of objects that can represent Indian culture from a new angle?

I suppose that when we design objects as Humble Raja, we approach our culture with a more contemporary and simple design sensibility. There’s a tendency for Indian things to be ornate, colourful and rather intricate. We try to distill things down to play up just one of those features. What we design is part of our exploration, so our aesthetic and curiosity work together to approach common things in new ways.

What was the creative process to create Kings of India?

Kings of India started with a lot of research. We were curious about the origins and artwork of playing cards as well as the great kings from India’s history. For a few months we read history books and researched artifacts to source the visual details to include in our deck. The next few months involved drawing multiple iterations for each court card by hand – we went back and forth between us and then we finalized the details on the computer. We designed our own typeface and suits each card and finally worked with the United States Playing Card Company to get them professionally printed. It took about a year from beginning to end, and it seems like the end is just the beginning!

We documented our creative process in more detail both on our blog and in this article.


What can we expect in the near future for your upcoming designs?

There’s so much we’d like to do, and we’re not sure what to do first! There is some illustration-based artwork and stationery line in the pipes – we’ll be keeping you updated via our Mr. Shah, he’s our little studio companion who’ll give you a small glimpse into our studio as we design and create our next product! Find him on our Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Humble Raja


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