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Hand me a mask, and the colours of India

Mathai Joseph | Updated on December 06, 2020

Under cover: Masks, worn or not, now dominate our appearance as we are forced to kneel to the will of the Corona monster   -  THE HINDU/ V RAJU

Protection from the virus is central to what we now call life; but what’s stopping us from being creative?

* We have sadly lapsed into sullen conformity, faces obscured, moods hidden behind folded patches of regulation black, pink or pale blue, as if we live under the regimen of a puritanical potentate

* A splash of the blues and greens of the Paithani weave will enliven hearts and minds across the country, just as the patterns of phulkari can bring the beat of bhangra to ears outside Punjab

* Don’t stop at mere mask. The flourish of two plumes fastening the mask in place would so greatly improve on the rudimentary loops of elastic that appear like unintentionally visible straps of underclothing on the sides of our faces

***

We used to be a country with the urge to don colours. Bright reds in Rajasthan, hot pinks in Punjab, sober rose-madder in Uttar Pradesh, demure blush-red in Bengal, yellows and golds in Kerala... Canvases of colour everywhere, from twirling turban to dainty toe, kohl around eyes echoing sparkling pupils. Stark white to contrast with bright splashes and give the young and old infinitely many ways of showing moods. Women from Assam to Maharashtra took to lipstick, the bold like Mumbai’s Kranti Salvi even wearing it above a colourful nine-yarder while running marathons. Men have fewer choices but did not hesitate to hide greying hair under unlikely black, even to mix and match by flaunting black moustache with ice-white hair.

And today? We have sadly lapsed into sullen conformity, faces obscured, moods hidden behind folded patches of regulation black, pink or pale blue, as if we live under the regimen of a puritanical potentate. Are we in some seminary of sameness, commanded not to provoke the senses?

Masks, worn or not, now dominate our appearance as we are forced to kneel to the will of the Corona monster. The spirit that kept us apart from those with merely pastel shade preferences, others for whom white or black is the only choice, has flagged. We who decorated occasions with colour and form now appear faceless. Even racehorses are more colourful in the livery of their owners. How can we look down our noses at anyone when said organ is hidden? How can we sneer sardonically when mouth is not visible? Are we to restrict expression to what eyes can flash, what shake of head and rise of brow can suggest?

This is not the India we all know and love. Do we no longer have the spirit to show the world what to wear?

There are glimmers in the swirling shadows of the Corona warlight. Identical twins who would be even more difficult to tell apart under cover choose to proclaim their identities with names embroidered in different colours on their masks. A family announces their kinship with surname printed on one side. A masked misanthrope with one brow shaped like a question mark, the other its reflection. Friend of a friend thought she spotted an Assamese gamusa mask in the distance. Could this be leading somewhere?

Arise, my friends, let us show the world we will fight both the virus and the dreariness of isolation and distancing by being colourfully safe, not drably sorry! While the world slumbers awaiting the vaccines, let us wake it to the colours and fabrics of our heritage.

Masks can be as bright and cheerful as they are safe. A splash of the blues and greens of the Paithani weave will enliven hearts and minds across the country, just as the patterns of phulkari can bring the beat of bhangra to ears outside Punjab. Be parochial if you will and wear Pochampally in Telangana and kalamkari in Andhra. Flash the colours of Gujarat with bandhni, the fabrics of Tamil Nadu with Kanjeevaram. Reflect the light of Rajasthan with intricate shisha work, the subtleties of depth with UP’s chikankari.

Why stop there? Wear the colours of your favourite football team in the Kolkata Derby: Green and maroon for Mohun Bagan, red and gold for East Bengal. Go international and sport the colours of Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur. Reveal F1 racing loyalties with silver and green for Mercedes, red for Ferrari, yellow and blue for McLaren.

Where are you, Manish Malhotra and Ritu Kumar? Why aren’t Rohit Bal and Masaba Gupta bringing colour and style to our masked lives? When will you brighten our everyday, Tarun Tahiliani and Anita Dongre?

Don’t stop at mere mask. The flourish of two plumes fastening the mask in place would so greatly improve on the rudimentary loops of elastic that appear like unintentionally visible straps of underclothing on the sides of our faces. Hold mask in place with a feathered cap or big bows. Add to safety with bright gloves at the end of our arms, different colours for morning and evening, for each day.

But what do we see? Errant souls expressing themselves by not wearing masks, naked faces with mask raised like a headband or hanging around the neck like a runaway beard. Not for long though, while the positivity rates of tests soar well above levels where one can hope the pandemic is coming under control. Can’t they see we don’t wear masks to satisfy official injunctions? We wear them for our safety and the safety of those around us.

We can be safe with style and flair, express ourselves with colour and texture. Remember, it’s our bodies that are bound by lockdowns and social distancing, not our minds and least of all our spirits. Time to show the world!

Mathai Joseph is a retired computer scientist living in Pune

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Published on December 06, 2020
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