Colours have different meaning as we grow up. They mean freedom at times and also bindings, bondage.
In this memoir, Piu Mahapatra looks back at a time of her life when crimson was more than just a presence in the colour palette.
Pigment: Napthol Carmabide 170
Crimson, that’s the first colour which announced that I am not a child anymore. “Stay inside and don’t jump around like frog,” Lakhidi, our stay-home helping lady hissed, suddenly looking wise and old.
My eyes must have rolled like Columbus, when he lost his compass and the last sea wind on the Canary Island. He got stranded. So did I.
I was a child with free wings, forgiven and unjudged even few minutes back. I hated this colour!!
The succulent crimson dices looked so tempting in the tiny stainless steel tiffin box. With one or two hidden cockroach-brown seeds, the water melons were always so juicy in the late May afternoons of Kolkata. Lakhidi had forgotten to give a spoon and I am damn sure on purpose. But that was not the reason why I sat square and still on the third row when my classmates were happily chatting away like chicken.
Chemistry has a weird way of naming apparently benign, everyday stuff with random alphabets followed by numbers. Which moron prefers to call sugar, the sweetest simple thing of life, something called C12H22O11? Looks more like a car number plate of Congo! And not only that, I was asked to memorize only to pass. My report card looked back at me. It had chemistry written on it and another sad alphabet, ‘F’ accompanying it in a glorious crimson red. I did mention earlier I believe, that I hated this colour!
‘Can you see the hue? The Sun, the divine God of life and power.’
On a freezing December night, yes, I considered 5:23 AM as night, being deprived from the warmth of the duvet and while standing on the open terrace, I found the question not only infuriating but a pain at every wrong place.
‘Can you see the colour my child?!’
Why do distant uncles from some far away village visit during the winter breaks? I asked myself with no answers at all.
Uncle was not as wise as one of my writer friends who had his wonderful logic of staying longer on bed and hating sunrise.
‘Let the sun sleep and we have the honor of a better night.’ The wise friend wrote. ‘Absence of the sun holds the key and not his presence…precisely because all day will start dull, the same…’
But my friend wrote this much later and uncle was already dead by then.
‘The colour, my child!’
‘Bloody Crimson Red!!’
Shouldn’t have said that and I knew I was dead, as well, that very minute. And of course…I hated this colour all the more.
They were sounds of laughter all around. Smell of ‘dhuno’ with camphor sprinkled, sweets, bellies and jasmine. There were the sound of the drums, priests chanting the verses and as the last hour drew in, we all finally gathered on the courtyard.
‘You are the youngest and this being your very first, let us all start by blessing you’.
They all gathered around, draped in gorgeous silks, bangles clinking…they all gathered around to put the vermilion, the crimsons on my parting, on my cheeks, on my chin. Later, much later, I looked at my reflection. The crimson has taken over and how my face glowed… and how I beamed!
I love crimson! Had always! Just needed a little time to realize that.
(Artwork: Piu Mahapatra)
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