When Deepika Padukone played Mastani in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s poetic musical, Bajirao Mastani, her character makes a seemingly vain but powerful argument about the perception of colour in our every day, in our religions,
“People have associated each religion with colour, but colour has no religion. It is when the heart burns black that you start differentiating on such grounds.” Colour, as we know it, could bring to life conversations of some of the most influential artistic endeavours or drop us into winding debates of its cultural significance. As Mastani speaks further, her words couldn't be any more relevant than they are today, “Perhaps, you forgot that idols in temples are often adorned in green and saffron sheets cover the purest Sufi Tombs. Where is the thought of colour and religion then?”
I remember us, little boys and girls falling into the hungry eyes of those who loved supple, pink-whites of the skin; in this land of South Asians, a place loud with ecstatic cries for petal-soft ivory skin, pale moon skin, let-me-be-blinded-by-you-till-death-do-us-apart skin. Just, skin. That summer then saw no new olive skin in cinemas, songs, plays or even in places of praise. Seven summers later, this land began changing—we see a face, no two, maybe three in a pool of thousands; calling for inclusivity in a country that’s already one. Two more summers down the line, I’m in the west of the west. Lotions, spray tans and basking in warmer days, seeking forevermore summer days and tanner skin. Half a summer in the west and another half in the east, how quickly can these eyes re-adjust, recuperate and realign into specific standards of colour in beauty. Playing constantly to popular beliefs of what’s pretty, what’s superior—dark skin over wheaty skin, white over black, this over that, someone over someone else. In all our sullen or glorious ways, why can’t skin, just be skin—untainted, uncut, alive and not surmised.
Walking through Chennai’s Parry’s Corner, you’ll find each bustling street finds in itself a purpose that it serves—bags, electronics, or fresh flowers. In the flower corner—Badrian Street, also known as Poo Kada Theru— strewn baskets of burlap and palm wood will waft around carrying colours of all seasons known to mankind: chrysanthemums, marigolds, roses and jasmines. Walking through the cramped aisles of this street, from a few years ago, little had I known the weight of the city’s seasonal swings (between summer and monsoon), that each basket carried. In our tropical corner lying on the Indian peninsula, the cry of colours takes many diverse shapes and forms,—in our foods, in our clothes, in our flowers and sometimes even in the flags we carry.
In the west, just a few thousand miles away, the world spins a little differently. Cultural significance of colours, flowers that dye in them and clothes that carry these hues are more prominent, seasonally.
Winters bring softer blues, greens and everything else that whispers, please don’t pop like your neighbour’s pink door. Winter is infamous for SAD, (Seasonal Affective Disorder) often socio-culturally referred to as Winter Blues, Summer depression caused by changes in the season. SAD typically kicks in during autumn and lives through the winter months.
Spring, as I’d like to believe, is the season of colours a.k.a the time of the year that’s a lot more forgiving in your choice of colours, and of what’s deemed fun and frolic.
Summer. Well, it is summer. All things yellow and “dandelion fuzz,” as Olaf from Frozen might vehemently agree to.
Autumn is for the orange, and shades of saffrons, crimson—a hue almost indefinitely representative of change in the Indian subcontinent.
Seeping into our every day, our brushes and our words, colour I’m led to believe defines us. Not in a way that draws a box around my human condition or yours, but in a way that tells us the reality of what’s what—things and feelings alike. Be it painter Stanley Whitney’s bold colour compositions juxtaposed against each other or Master composer Ilayaraja’s Thendral Vanthu Theendum, and every other artistic endeavour that takes us back and forth in human history, the strong personalization of colours in our cultures have been timeless, and in some unique ways, maybe even influential.
What comes of institutionalizing colour, however, is a story for another day. For now, why can’t colour, just be colour—untainted, uncut, alive and not surmised?