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Colour is a joy, a problem and a confusion says Santanu Borah in his weekly column!

Santanu Borah writes a weekly column for Abir Pothi every Thursday. Today, he talks about the rather intriguing process of analyzing the character and function of colours. Read on!

If you were to go by most science fiction films out there, the future is going to be a rather drab place – everyone in similar shiny or rubbery uniforms of a shade of white or grey, or a forlorn pastel. That, ominously, means festivals in the distant future might not have much more than a dash of colour. Unless, of course a laser-head has other ideas (I am counting on the laser-head).

A festival changes the vibe of the environment with a significant dose of colour. Within that firmament of celebration, you have the problem of taste and elegance. Personally, I like a bit of mutedness because, I believe, it helps you regard a colour without a sliver of shock running up your spine.


Our country has a love affair with gold and all things rouge, golden, more gold and some more gold. The most common examples of gold being the “I have arrived” sign are politicians and dons. These guys love fat gold chains and the fat of the land. And it does not do much to their aesthetic appeal. Anyway, while golden paraphernalia does enliven the atmosphere, it also gives you a sinking feeling the gold is not going to last. It, in many cases, appears to be the psycho-pathology of somebody who is making a last-ditch effort to keep the good times rolling. Conducting a life that seems to be continually pushing you towards hard times, some golden confetti or garlands can always be therapeutic. It makes you forget tomorrow will come again in its absolute quotidian form.

The brightest shades come with substantially large personalities. And it takes a big personality to marry them together. Which is why exposure to good art from an early age is important, because we eventually turn into our environment. Just as vulgarity begets vulgarity, elegance begets elegance. While I am not the one to dwell on the past, I feel old Indian art is truly exquisite. That leads me to believe the festivals then were simpler and a more elegant riot of colours. You can’t say the same about today, when colours are slapped together like all the vegetables in a pao-bhajji, resulting in a suspicious shade of red.


Since colour is rooted in all cultures, it can be very confusing. Just look at funerals. While most of the West prefers black at such “events”, we prefer white. That begs the question, which is the sadder or more melancholic or more meaningful colour? Religions have never really agreed. Black and white have always been at odds.

The most common example of this is a viral social media post about feeding the “right” wolf.

The world would have had a different shine if white were evil and black the light of angels. I wonder when white conquered the heavens and became the colour of bliss, while black drowned in the reptilian shade of the swamp.

If you ask me for my two-kilobyte opinion borne out of everyday observation, black is as much a “light” as white, or a silver lining would have no meaning. I have also seen that dark lining in a silvery afternoon cloud and concluded that it gives the randomly-shaped cloud a much-needed foundation. The dark cloud mothers the light, as much as light mothers the cloud. I believe none is greater than the other.



In that popular Native American story, you can either feed the black wolf or the white, where the black wolf is evil. Everyone seems to have forgotten that we were talking about wolves here. I never understood when the black wolf became more wolf and the white wolf less, despite their knife-sized killer fangs. When did the white become therapy, while the black fangs ended up deranged? As I see it, a wolf doesn’t see colour and nor does it use morality to function. However, all the metaphor for goodness seems to lie in the garden of white, though the world’s most popular god-figure, Jesus, was born in Bethlehem and was a dark messiah.

Finally, the best thing about colour is that it brings joy. It is, eventually, a subjective experience that may or may not become a universal idea. While brain scans have revealed how most human beings react to, say, the colour blue, it is also a fact that exceptions abound. Given the right circumstances, red can be as peaceful as blue. I, for one, prefer the dark silence of the night. The tiniest line of light looks far more engaging when you have the grand canvas of the night to place it in. Similarly, at dawn the dark silhouette of the trees makes the sunrise more magnificent. It is the interplay that makes all the difference. By itself, at least in nature, a colour is just a bland vibration of light particles. It becomes mysterious and joyous only in relation to the other.