Updated: Aug 15, 2020
Art class in the second grade of school was always fun for me. I remember my class teacher would narrate a story while simultaneously drawing a scene on the board. She would then ask us to replicate something similar in our drawing books. This made our imagination accompany our pencil lines. Size and scale didn’t quite matter then – the tree was the same size as the house and the swing was half the tree’s size. Mountains were symmetrical isosceles triangles, with a half circle sun rising from between the peaks. The river flowed from just in front of the mountain and always had meanders. Sometimes there’d be a boat with a match-stick figure person. These were some of the typical features in my art irrespective of whether I drew a seaside, a sunset, a garden or anything else I was asked to imagine. Once these were drawn, then came the fun part – colouring. I remember Ma’am, as we called her, would ask us to name the colours we would use. She would then transform into a silent observer of our talent. I recall this one instance where I had coloured everything except the sky.
My instinct knew it was blue but I still wanted to see it. So, I peered at it through the classroom window. To my dismay, it was not just blue. My inexperienced eyes saw other colours – white, blue, grey and a mix of these in some parts. I photographed the image with my eyes and then came back to my seat. From my twelve crayon box, I took out three colours – blue, white and the third being black, which I would combine with white to make grey. Content with my plan, I began colouring. Every now and then, I would pause to look up at the sky. As soon as I was satisfied with my masterpiece, I looked over at my friend’s drawing – her sky was only blue. I told her promptly, “But the sky is not just blue, see outside”. She looked at me and said “But Ma’am said blue”.
I grew nervous because my sky was different. I began adding more blue over the grey patches, making some parts darker than the others. Upon realizing the mismatched shades, I tried to make it all the same colour, rigorously pressing down the blue crayon on the paper. I could hear a voice coaxing me ‘but the sky is not just blue’. After I completed colouring, I looked at my drawing. My sky was messy. Lost in my disappointment, I heard Ma’am announce “All those who have not got their drawings corrected, come now otherwise I will not see it”. Reluctantly, I made my way to her. I placed my book in front of her, looked down and whispered “Ma’am, I saw the sky was not just blue”. She did not react. Instead, in her red pen, wrote “Lovely” towards the bottom corner of the page. I smiled gleefully on my way back and showed my drawing to my friend telling her, “My sky is not just blue and Ma’am gave me lovely”.
Choosing to colour the sky not only blue then, is similar to, now choosing to colour myself in different cultural hues. The only difference is that I am not nervous, I don’t look at my friend’s drawing to match the colours, I don’t wish to add more blue and I don’t try to make it all the same colour. It can never be all one colour for me because I am Anglo-Indian with Malayali seasoning. My ‘Anglo-Indian-ness’ will always have a tint of ‘Malayali’ in as much it leaves as imprint on the latter’s traits. Some call that ‘half Anglo-Indian’ and the others ‘pseudo-mallu’. Unlike Ma’am, they want me to colour my sky blue. They want me to conform to their idea that the sky is blue. Unfortunately, I can’t find that shade of blue.
I never thought that Ma’am’s affirmation of my drawing way back then, would be an inspiration for me now. My sky is interesting, impressive and unsettling for most like it was for my friend all those years ago. However, physics too has taught me a bittersweet secret – the sky has no specific colour but it is attributed with several depending on the sunlight. This sunlight knows not of the ever-changing nature of my sky on account of my cross-cultural parentage. It knows not of people from cross-cultural parentage or those who experience its influence while changing places under the sky. It is oblivious of the dust particles that will scatter only a part of its light. It is unaware of the implications of this ‘blue scattering’ – on its drawings, images, and people. Unknowingly, it has aided stereotypes that are yet to make place for the ‘half Anglo-Indian’ and the ‘pseudo-mallu’. My sky is still messy from stories of being as they say ‘all mixed up’, yet like the remark on that page of my drawing book in grade two – it’s still lovely. What colour is your sky?