The Value of Color

I learnt this from an army lieutenant, and didn’t find any reference to it on the Internet, so am writing about it. I have often met people who discuss about how we take things for granted, and never realize their value unless we miss them. Typical examples include electricity and water. But what about color?

Indian army soldiers, who’re deployed on Siachen, have numerous newspaper, magazine, and such stuff posted on their cabin walls. They’re supposedly mad about any such clips, and bring them along whenever they’re back to Siachen from the mainland. Their walls are littered with photographs, newspaper clippings, magazine cutouts – anything that is colored.

Why? Because the whole world in Siachen is only the white of the snow. They don’t get to see color at all.

Do we ever even think about such things?

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  • I was in eight grade, earnestly watching Disney’s “Duck Tales” show. In one of the episodes ‘Cold duck’ uncle Scrooge goes to Antarctica. They have depicted this nicely.
    First, the penguins take away their colorful clothes. Second, they have a ‘Museum of colors’ where all colorful objects are kept. Third, the penguins attack the ducks because they think they are there to steal their colors. Fourth, the little penguin who helped Scrooge and the family gets a colorful parachute, box of crayons and a colorful scarf as a present….. (ok I should stop, you can read more here: Treasure of the Golden Suns (PS: Needless to say, I worship Duck Tales;) ))
    That was when I realized the value of colors.

    Another thought. Why is ‘Green’ the holy color of Muslims? Because in Arabia, imagine a guy wandering in desert. Suddenly he finds an oasis (i.e. green), and he believes its a god sent gift.
    Why is Red holy to Tibetian Buddhists? Because its bright and colorful and rare against the typical Tibetian landscape (a snow and rock desert).
    Why is Orange holy to Hindus? I leave it to you.
    (I’m not serious, this is just my theory)

  • Priyank: thanks so much for offering these insights! How wonderful!

    I haven’t seen the Duck tales and will now try to. You reminded me of Disney’s Fantasia!

    I’ve no idea why Orange is holy to Hindus. The closest thing I can associate Orange with is fire, which is an integral part of many Hindu ceremonies. But I don’t think that is what makes Orange sacred to Hindus. Please shed more ‘light’ on this! 🙂

  • Colour is very important to us humans and I feel sad that when you searched the internet you didn’t come across my post on colour! 🙂 However I feel too embarrassed to leave a link here. So only if you are interested you can check it out on my blog. I have done a photo feature on it and you will find it in my category photography. I got a few interesting comments on that post as well and you just might find answers to some of your questions…

  • An interesting post. Made me think for a while and its true even for color when one gets starved of it. It also reminded me of an experience in Hokkaido while enjoying the Snow festival (aka yuki matsuri). I couldn’t get my eyes used to the bright whiteness reflected by the sunlit snow for nearly half an hour, later I will write a post on its evolutionary impact on select ethnic groups human!
    Also this post made me wonder how the world will look like for the Polar bear being a mammal spending most of its life time on white ice land mass. I guess for it color means those which appear in sky, ocean, rocks and the blood red which it experiences while eating its prey! Wish I could see through its eyes.

    a nice post mahendra!

  • It’s also interesting to note that our notion of colour is very much our own, in the sense of being limited to Homo Sapiens. Our retinal apparatus is able to sense/detect a particular narrow (very narrow) band of wavelengths, and that is what we consider to be visible light. Bees for instance have a very different visible range. What we consider ultra-violet (and therefore invisible) is very much bang in the middle of the visible spectrum for bees. I also find it interesting to imagine how life elsewhere (other than earth) with a completely different visible range (perhaps microwave to infrared) would categorize its colours..
    I know this is a deviation from the original theme, but since colour is essentially a range of distinctions of “visible” light, I felt this might be relevant 🙂

  • Nita: I reckon you are referring to your photo-essay of India in color, showing how we Indians dress in colorful clothes. I had indeed read that when you had posted it. What I was referring to regarding searching on the Internet was the focus of my post: the soldiers’ craving for color in Siachen.

    However, I had not read through all the comments, which I did now, and yes, there are some interesting points to ponder! Thanks for the redirect!

    Thiru: nice to see you haven’t disappeared altogether! 🙂 Thanks for the compliments. Your thoughts regarding seeing the world from a polar bear’s perspective are interesting. However, just like it has evolved to withstand the cold, it would’ve evolved to get used to the white. Unlike our soldiers…

    I look forward to your post on the evolutionary impact!

    Ashok: I’ve always observed how the romance and allure of ‘color’ disappears when you place it in the scientific context of frequency, spectrum, and wavelenths! 🙂 I didn’t know about the bees having a different visibility range. Regarding aliens, I believe Carl Sagan has touched upon this in one of his books, I’m not sure. All these are fascinating thoughts…

  • Except for the pine and spruce trees, which stay dark green, most plants turn a dull yellow and brown during the winter in Colorado. Somehow that tires me more than the snow which, when it comes, can be quite beautiful after the storm has passed and the sky turns deep blue above the sparkling crystals of new snow.

    But the snow quickly melts where I live — then everything is back to dull yellow and brown again, and I start wishing it were spring and that there were new shades of green everywhere.