Colour Matters? Questions Our Prejudices: An Excerpt

Anuranjita Kumar

An excerpt from the book, Colour Matters? by Anuranjita Kumar.


Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated. —Kofi Annan

As a child, I loved colours, all kinds of colours! I felt nature was so beautiful. It had given us such beautiful colours that it was difficult to find words to describe the magic. I felt speechless with joy every day, as my eyes tried to decipher the intriguing shades in the rising sun, in the gorgeous blue sky of the afternoon or in the sun-kissed twilight. Each changing season filled me with unnamed feelings—each colour evoked an emotion, slightly mixed, yet distinct. The bright sunshine of the summer drenched the flowers with its golden glow, when wildflowers blossomed on a velvet green carpet of tall grass—all to teach me the secret ingredient of happiness. The relentless winter brought with it a sort of reincarnation, when everything was covered with white snow and the pristine whiteness infused me with peace and calm. Colours draped me with compassion and tenderness, teaching me the essence of life.

Even the colourless water serenaded me with its crystal clear beauty. There was a sense of wonderment and I was mystically immersed in the very essence of water, which in its fluidity adopted any colour as if it were its own. An essence that wished to submit itself and dissolve itself in any hue. Various colours reflected their radiance on the water surface as if this was always their home.

This realisation also makes me think—are we all essentially colourless, spending our lives in the quest to be colourful?

In hindsight, I realise that this thought came to me from a marvellous epiphany—that nature is like a palette, a magnificent infusion of all the colours that exist in the universe.

I am very fond of two flowers—tesu and sunflower—one a flaming orange and the other a vibrant yellow. Their magnetism has touched me deeply and spurred me on to live with energy and vitality. Time and again, they helped me allay my momentary despondency and made me want to live life to the fullest. Both these colours play with my emotions, they make me feel happy and optimistic about the world.

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My fondness for colours also led me to my interest in art. As a child, I drew almost everything I saw! I was never apprehensive of painting my raw, innocent thoughts on paper. I loved drawing trees, houses, rivers, flowers and my family. I would drape my mother in a yellow saree and my father in an orange shirt, while I stood between them donning both shades. I felt I could use all the colours that my eyes could see to paint my perception of the world on paper. However, as I played with the paint brush, trying to bring my picture to life, the colour of skin always made me feel unsure! I wondered if I could mix two colours and create a new one, or was the colour of the skin ordained to be a certain way? My imagination ran wild and I experimented with all kinds of colours that could adorn my skin. I felt art stimulated me to invest in the freedom to think the unthinkable and imagine the unimaginable! It made me fearless and bold.

I was compelled to reflect upon the uncomfortable suggestion imposed on me—why were the lighter shades used as ‘skin colour’ and the darker shades forcibly looked down upon as an aberrant?

One time in school, as I was pondering over my painting, my teacher, sensing some confusion, instructed me to mix pink with white to paint the skin of the figures I had sketched. I was quite befuddled with this statement and when I compared that pinkish white colour to my pale brown skin, something seemed amiss. I could not deceive myself into believing that I could paint everybody with the same colour and, indeed, the same brush! The moribund homogeneity of the human species provided room for evolution and that holds true even today as far as skin colour is concerned. For a long time, I believed that it was the pinkish white colour, which was ‘supposed’ to be the colour of the skin—of anybody’s skin. However, I was compelled to reflect upon the uncomfortable suggestion imposed on me—why were the lighter shades used as ‘skin colour’ and the darker shades forcibly looked down upon as an aberrant? Over days, weeks and years, I learnt that the colours I loved so much did mean different things, even though people could not choose any of it for themselves at birth— black, brown or white!

I had no inclination or aversion to any colour in particular. However, over time, each colour started to represent a quality of a person—black was dangerous, brown was boring, white was beautiful. When we are guided by such views, we fail to understand the ‘whole’ person. We are so confined and constrained to see the world as we think we ought to see it that we sometimes accept our erroneous perception to be the reality. At a young age, I was fortunate enough to realise that the world is spectacularly occupied by various colours, but our minds were quick to judge them in black and white truths.

Image Credit:  Anuranjita Kumar/ Bloomsbury Publishing

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Excerpted with permission from Colour Matters? by Anuranjita Kumar, Bloomsbury Publishing.