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?

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces