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WAX & WANE WITH NEERJA: COLOUR ME QUICK!


Looking up after a rainstorm to see the gentle glowing colours of a rainbow is a magical moment.
There is something about colour that fills me with so much positivity.
Each colour means something special. 

“The colours of India are so diverse, they speak the language of our people- from red and ochre walls of a village hut to the pristine white of the Taj
Mahal. It is no wonder that as a people we celebrate colour with a special festival, Holi.”


When I was at ELLE, colour was not just a passing reference in fashion, it was a well-researched subject. Professionals trained in the use and impact of colour would create the year’s colour palette which then dictated fashion, home furnishings, paint, product colours and more across the world. A very serious business. I had just taken over as editor ELLE and my first issue would hit the stands in time for Holi. I wanted the issue to be about the quintessentially Indian colours, with a contemporary twist. The then fashion editors, Nari and Anaita, used our traditional motif of sindoor for a fashion feature of white clothes; they used different colours in the hair partings for the models. Another article featured objects placed on traditional flower spreads like the mogra, gonda and desi gulab. It was spectacular. 


When I look at colours from the eyes of tradition and custom, I wonder how they may have come to be? Early colours came from nature. Gulaal and sindoor were made at home, using flowers from the ‘flame of the forest’ or ‘tesu’, a tree that bloomed in spring. Plucked flowers were dried in the sun, ground into fine dust and when mixed in water, gave way to the most brilliant hue of saffron-red or ‘abir’ as the colour is known.


Red is a mark of matrimony for us, it symbolises fertility, love, beauty and traditionally, the bride wears red, to manifest the symbolism. Before global warming altered the weather, the colour Blue, of the revered Lord Krishna ‘sanvaarein’, teased the skies on Holi, personifying his ‘viraatswaroop’ avatar. Indigo too is a natural dye. 

Green symbolised new beginnings of the harvest season, which falls at the same time as Holi. It also represents fertility. And as we know, green is a sacred colour in the Muslim tradition. 

Yellow, another colour in the Indian psyche, is synonymous with turmeric which is now recognised the world over for its medicinal use. It’s an important offering in our religious rituals. 


Colour plays such a vital role in our lives, it can inspire thinking, change actions and cause reactions. Did you know that you are more likely to forget something if it is in black and white?
You think that’s why newspapers are black and white? News today, forgotten tomorrow! 

Red and yellow stimulate hunger! Get rid of those table mats and napkins immediately, use blue
ones instead, it suppresses hunger.  White is the safest car colour, probably because it’s most visible on the black/ grey roads. Cow urine was once used for paint pigment to make that ‘Indian yellow’ colour…  you see they
really do worship cows! 


“And here’s the clincher, science says colours don’t exist. Apparently, they’re all in our head… just signals our brains try and make sense out of! What colour could sense be? 
Whatever it is, science also says 62% to 90% of a first impression, is due to the colours that we wear!”

The fashion editor in me wants you to consider this, neutral colours or black make fewer positive first impressions, but those who wear brighter colours are more likely to form friendly bonds. I was always in burst of jewel tones at ELLE’s annual conferences in France, whilst the people there preferred to be in black.

Neerja Shah

Former Publisher Editor of Elle India & TV Producer

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