I have often toyed with the question as to what it would be like living in a black and white world and have always ended up being humbly grateful to the Creator for giving us a world full of scintillating colors and the ability to see them. My fascination with the rainbow spectrum began, when as a boy, I became an apprentice to the great Anna Molka Ahmed. Both our families lived on Queen’s Road in Lahore and Mrs. Ahmed’s younger daughter was not only my school mate, but also a close friend. The charismatic ‘Anna Molka’ as her informal circle called her, taught me the art of balancing light and form and soon painting became one of my extracurricular passions.

It was in 1997 when I was at the end of my professional career and looking forward to a retired life that I became acquainted with Athar Jamal, the celebrated artist from Karachi. During one of our conversations, I mentioned that one of my desires was to enter the world of water color as I found oils depressing. Some weeks and several sketchbooks later, a smiling Athar presented me with a water color of ‘Barri Imam’s Shrine’, a packet of preshrunk paper and a Winsor and Newton field set that could fit comfortably onto my waist belt. Time and tide then flung us apart and I lost contact with someone who had given me a gift beyond measure. I now produce sporadic watercolors that are immediately hijacked by relatives and friends, but the ‘Barri Imam’ painting has the place of honor on the mantelpiece in my drawing room and the field painting set rests untouched on my study cum studio mantelpiece, as a token of reverence to my teacher.

Believe it or not, modern science has proved that colors play a critical role in shaping our lives and behavior. Pink for example is considered to be feminine, but in some parts of the world, jail cells housing violent prisoners have been painted with this color as it has a calming effect upon them. There are some, who say that red capes, red plumes and red pennants used by ancient armies instilled and aggravated blood lust, making them fight ferociously and without fear. What I know for sure is that red is part of the group of hot colors and may well have generated the aforementioned feelings against the adversary. This brings to mind the fact that brides in the Sub-Continent traditionally wear red or shades of red. I have a vague idea of what this symbolizes, but a close friend insists on linking it to the notion of battle – domestic battles in the post marriage era.

White has always been considered a symbol of peace, purity and dignity. It is therefore logical that warring sides surrender or parley under a white flag, medical staff and hospitals use white as their signature and brides in the West wear white dresses. Black on the other hand is considered to be a symbol of mourning in the West. On the flip side white is worn by many Hindu widows. Interestingly enough, a change has been triggered in our part of the world, where lines separating the symbolism of these two basic colors are being erased.

Green was and continues to be the symbol of religious Sufism. It has also lately begun to symbolize environmental activism. Shades from yellow to orange, known generally as ‘Basanti’ are associated with festivity and bring to mind fond memories of the Kite Flying Festival of the same name that fell prey to irresponsible citizens and a short sighted administration.

So much could be written about colors and what they represent that one could perhaps write a book on the subject. Nonetheless, this week’s piece would be incomplete without referring to nature’s color palette – the wonderful rainbow. While there is no pot of gold to be found at its end, the sight of one is enough to make people stop and gaze in awe at the amazing spectacle.