Adding more color to our lives

Did you know how lucky you are compared to your dog? You can see color.He can’t. You can express your creativity through multiple colors.Mr. Dog has to be content with a dog’s life. Till a few years, Mr. Dog could at least claim proudly that his master enjoyed no advantage in viewing photos and television. But not for long! Technological barriers were overcome to enable us to capture our memories in color and bring color to our living room. Color is also said to represent our personalities and we can communicate who we are through the colors we choose to represent us. But in spite of color playing such an important role in our life, I wonder why we somehow seem to associate dignity with lack of color. Mr. Portly Bulldog smiles smugly to himself. Wait a minute! Can a bull dog smile? I never asked one.

My reverie on smiling bulldogs was broken by the appearance of a saffron-robed figure whose neither age nor gender I could guess. It introduced itself as the ghost of the Diwali past. In case you wonder what nonsense I am blabbering about out of the blue, I would recommend you look up a book by a 19th Century English Gentleman by name Charles Dickens. This thing is my imagination’s Indianized representation of a character from his book ‘Christmas Carol’. Well getting back to the point, it took me back to a good old black and white flash back scene from my life. There stood a little boy with uncombed hair and a dripping nose. A pretty young woman with a stern face stood facing him. The boy held socks of 2 different colors in his hands. The smart reader that you are, you are probably chuckling to yourself on having caught my goof up. How could I see colors in a black and white scene? Not so fast, my dear friend! I did not see the colors as such. They appeared as different shades of black by which I could guess they were different colors. I am sure you would know what I mean if you have seen some of those old black and white movies. Satisfied? I stood there invisibly and listened to their conversation.

“Amma, may I wear these socks ?”
“No. You may not. Both socks need to be of the same color.”
“Why, Ma? I think it looks nicer and more colorful this way.”
“No. Only a clown wears socks of different color on his two feet. And I don’t want a clown for a son.”

That was my first realization that too much of color is not such a good thing after all.

The Ghost of the Diwali Past then took me on a roller coaster ride through the next few years – my school days. The little boy in the first scene kept running as he kept growing bigger and bigger. The entire school days were a saga of dual color tyranny. As the schools changed, the color of the uniforms changed, but the number of colors always remained the same – two! First it was white and khaki, then light and dark blue, then cream and dark green, then white and grey, then again light and dark blue and finally white and dark green. At least uniform colors changed, but the damn shoe had to be black all the time. Why not a green or red shoe? By the way, now that I am deep into the topic, I would request the reader to not interrupt my flow of thought by asking irrelevant questions on how I was seeing all these colors in the black and white flash back scenes. You don’t put these logic questions to our Bollywood directors. Why only me? At this point, I would request the reader to kindly give leave to the ghost to return and rest peacefully in the graveyard and move on. It was not just the uniform. The tyranny ran much deeper. When I say deeper, do not let your imagination literally run wild and start thinking of vest and briefs. That’s not what I mean. I am talking here from a figurative sense. The teacher would write on the black board with white chalk. We had to copy notes on a white notebook with a black pencil. The tyranny of duality was not just outside but we were being thoroughly indoctrinated to think in terms of dualities, the good boy and the bad boy, the studious student and the stupid student, the front benchers and the back benchers. Finally after 14 years, when I went to college I was at last free to choose my own colors. But the freedom was restricted to the color of my clothes alone. In my mind I was still bound by dualities. At the end of my schooling, after 2 years of hard toil, I ended up defining my identity not through colors but through a duality – IITian and non IITian.

As the years progressed and we moved from black and white times to color times, the duality only kept getting more and more. My entry into the corporate world took me right back to the school days of uniforms. Only now it was called by the glorified name of ‘Corporate dressing etiquette’. Sounds quite a mouthful, eh? Usually a young man starting on his job dreams of quickly rising up the ranks. If asked why, he would say more money, more power. On probing deeper, one might possibly mention more freedom. But nothing can be further from the truth. As one climbs up the corporate ladder, one only tends to lose more and more of one’s freedom. If you are of sadistic mindset you can take pleasure in the fact that you also gain more power to restrict other’s freedom. And as far as color goes, one can gauge the seniority of a person by how few colors he allows himself. If you see a man in light shirt, dark suits and trousers, black shoes and a black suitcase, you can be sure he belongs to the senior management. I sometimes wonder if these guys are as colorless in their decision making as they are in their attire.

Talking of suits, if one were to mention an unconventional suit color, one can be sure of an unflattering comparison to film star Govinda. Still the same old story of my mother‘s comparison of my choice of socks to that of a circus clown. As in school, one can see this singular scorn of colors not just in the choice of attire. All your business applications have to be in grey. Whoever has the audacity to design a pink or green screen? I wonder about the utility of a 24 bit high definition color screen in offices. A monochrome screen could have very well served the purpose. It is once again the same story when you make your power point presentations. Too much of color is not considered a CXO grade presentation. Probably too colorful presentations would give these sad men living in their dual colored world an inferiority complex.

Business is by no means the only sphere of life that seems to abhor color. Religion goes a step further and imposes a single color on its higher echelons. But religious leaders can at least justify the lack of colors claiming renunciation of colors symbolic of renunciation of the world. But politicians definitely can make no such claims. Unless of course one is living in a Plato’s imaginary republic ruled by philosopher kings. Whereas western politicians dress up is dual color like corporate honchos, the ‘simple’ Indian law maker favors only white for his clothing, reserving black for his monetary possessions. Men of science in their white coats are again not too colorful either.

So what are we doing? What is so undignified about being colorful? Isn’t nature dignified in its replescendent colors? Why are we shunning colors like this? The only reason I can think of is to give a level playing field to our old friend Mr. Dog we met earlier on. A really noble socialistic objective indeed! We give a preschool kid colorful crayons and ask him to express himself freely on the walls of the house. Why can’t we give ourselves the same freedom as we grow up to express ourselves to our heart’s content in all spheres of life?

Meaning of Real Beauty

The following post is written for Indiblogger's competition, for the topic, What does real beauty mean to you?

What real beauty means to me? Well. They are just words. And words can mean anything or nothing as one chooses. So, at the risk of sounding pedantic, I start with the standard definitions. Wikipedia defines beauty as below.

Beauty is a characteristic of a person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure, meaning, or satisfaction. An ‘ideal beauty’ is an entity which is admired, or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture, for perfection.
The experience of ‘beauty’ often involves the interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. Because this is a subjective experience, it is often said that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ In its most profound sense, beauty may engender a salient experience of positive reflection about the meaning of one's own existence. A subject of beauty is anything that resonates with personal meaning

If one were to simplify this, the common themes associated with beauty seem to be perfection, harmony, pleasure, inner meaning and satisfaction. Perfection and harmony are atrributes of the object of beauty whereas pleasure, meaning and satisfaction are the experiences of the beholder. So if one were to define beauty in terms of former, there remains little scope for any subjectivity. All one has to do is to put a measure for perfection and harmony and set up an instrument for measuring the same. And presto! A machine can define beauty for you. So there is no question of real beauty meaning anything to a specific individual. Real beauty is the same for you, me and every one of this earth. So if we have to talk in terms of real beauty’s meaning to an individual, it has to be in the later domain – pleasure, inner meaning and satisfaction. So real beauty to me is what gives me maximum pleasure, inner meaning and satisfaction.

So how do I compare experiences and compare degrees of pleasure, meaning and satisfaction and come up with which experience gave me the maximum level? When I think about it, it is not that difficult. At its maximum, I do not even perceive them. I become one with the experience, no longer thinking about the pleasure, meaning and satisfaction. When the experience ends, it is as if I have woken up from a dream. Anything that evokes this kind of experience in me is what I call real beauty.

It is not without reason that poets from times immemorial have extolled the beauties of nature. Nature has worked over eons to achieve perfection and harmony and is still striving. A mountain’s loftiness, a sea’s relentlessness, a desert’s vastness! The serenity of dawn and the calmness of dusk! The hues of the sky and the sea, the flowers and the leaves and the colorful rainbow! The first morning cry of wild birds, their evening chirping and the late night wolf’s howl to the moon. One can just loose oneself in these myriad wonders of nature. Mother Nature just holds you spell bound in her charm and you are one with her. That’s real beauty – pure unadulterated beauty!

In deep meditation the flow of concentration is continuous like the flow of oil”, says Patanjali in his ‘Yoga Sutras’. This concentration that Patanjali is talking about is a wonderful feeling and I have experienced that when I am doing something I love doing and get deeply engrossed in the work. The striving to create perfection that makes you one with your work and partake of its perfection is true beauty. I get the same feeling when experiencing works of perfection created by others. When I read a book, listen to music or look at a painting, the perfection the artist has tried to effuse into his works draws me in its grasp and I forget myself in their charm. That’s real beauty - the beauty of creating and the beauty of creation!

Any discussion on beauty would be incomplete without touching on the aspect of love. Beauty induces a feeling of love and love creates beauty. But it is not just love that has beauty in it, the entire gamut of human emotions have beauty associated with them. Each of the ‘Nava Rasas’, the nine emotions – Love, mirth, sorrow, anger, enthusiasm, terror, disgust, astonishment and peace have beauty associated with it. Of course going by the definition, one can argue that only the positive emotions invoke pleasure and so negative emotions cannot be called as beautiful. But if that were the case, how would one account for man’s fascination for tragedy, revenge and horror? From times immemorial, well made stories, plays and movies having these themes have enjoyed as much success as those depicting love, mirth, enthusiasm. To me each and every raw human emotion in its purest form is beauty.

Beauty is often considered a thing of the heart and people often demarcate between art and science. The former is supposed to be the domain of the heart and the later that of the head. But are the head and the heart unrelated? When I read Michio Kaku’s book on string theory or Jared Diamond’s work on human civilization, I get the same feeling when that I get looking at the sea during sunset or gazing at paintings of Van Gogh. I used to get the same joy when I solved complex physics problems from a book by one Russian gentleman named I E Irodov when I was in school. I would definitely say science has as much claim on beauty as art. There is no greater testimony to this than the story of Archimedes running out of his tub naked shouting ‘Eureka, Eureka’ in the excitement of his discovery. If something that evokes this kind of emotion is not beautiful, then what is?

I seem to have been running all over the place in an effort to cover maximum ground. It might have given an impression that I consider beauty as a combination of loosely hanging threads of disparate concepts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact all these facets are deeply intertwined. Nature or deep personal emotion is what inspires man to create his masterpieces. These masterpieces in turn create deep emotion. As a child, I had cried at the end of a Kannada movie called ‘Sepoy Ramu’. I scoffed at the idea as an adult but found myself in the verge of tears when I was watching ‘Rang De Basanti’ and ‘Mein Azaad Hoon’ though I knew they were just movies. That’s beauty. And if one were to think of science, isn’t it just another way of appreciating the beauties of nature. Art I would say is a passive admiration of nature whereas science is a more active admiration. Each of these aspects could have been covered in depth. But in order to have breadth, I had to sacrifice depth. If one has to cover the topic of beauty in its entirety of breadth and depth, all the books in the world would not be sufficient. Poets and philosophers having been attempting the task from ages and still I believe the breadth and depth have not been fully fathomed.

As I conclude, I just wanted to briefly touch the topic of physical beauty and use of cosmetics, clothing, ornaments etc. It is just fair I should as this contest is being sponsored by Dove. Whereas models and actresses deck themselves to glory, the general feeling among the intelligentsia seems to be that beauty is just shallow and not real beauty. Though there is some truth to that, I would not fully agree. There is often this unfair association between vanity and trying to look beautiful. I would say trying to look beautiful is not just for your own self but for others as well. I myself used to consider looking good a crime and used to roam the city with my hair uncombed in a torn shirt, a faded pair of shorts and an old battered Hawaii slippers. But then I happened to read this book ‘What Katy did.' Then I realized you are making others happy by looking good and you are insulting the people you are hanging out with by looking like a ruffian. From then on I began to pay closer attention to my mother’s advice on grooming and attire. Human beauty is after all an aspect of nature. And as far as conscious attempts to make one self look beautiful goes, couldn’t the people doing that also be considered as artists who use their bodies as the canvas to express perfection. Geishas represent the pinnacle in this art of expressing perfection through one’s own body. And people definitely find it pleasurable to see aesthetically appealing facial features, male bodies with six pack abs and size zero female bodies. Else why would they be so excited about the film stars? So that aspect of beauty can definitely not be discounted, though that by no means is the only form of beauty.

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For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces