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.