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Once upon a time, or so it seems, I loved the color orange and its many shades. I owned a tunic in orange too and fancied it suited me more than some of the other colors. But then everything changed. The color began to connote something quite different, a party whose ideology I found myself disagreeing with vehemently. That was the moment we parted ways, orange and I.

There’s this funny story about the color orange, or one of its shades, saffron. When I say ‘funny’ I don’t mean ‘funny’ funny, more of a dark funny. About a quarter of a century back, I was on a bus with an older woman traveling from Point A to Point B. About midway, the bus had to slow down owing to a slogan shouting group blocking the road. We get a lot of that sort of thing in God’s Own Country down south.

In the outskirts of this group stood a lone man in an orange/saffron kurta and dhoti. Perhaps he was part of the crowd agitating, or he was just standing there observing things. I think it was more of the latter, but I could be wrong because my companion said he raised his hand in the classic sign of Inquilab Zindabad. We hear a lot of that here too: Long live the revolution!

Seeing the man in orange, my companion was indignant. Look at him, she said, in an aggrieved tone, he’s agitating wearing orange/saffron! People who wear the color are those who should have given up attachment. And this man here is protesting?!! I was amused. It’s just a color, I replied. It is true, monks wear the color. But others who aren’t monks can wear it too and he probably is one such. She was not buying any of that line of argument. No, she said, her eyes flashing. He is a sanyasi (a monk) in that color, someone who wears it has given up materialistic life. He can’t go about joining agitations.

Well, what if he is not (a monk) at all? What if he thought the color was cool and decided to wear it? In that case he is allowed to join protests, right? I asked her. A look of stubbornness so familiar to me, settled over her face. No, she spat out, if you wear orange/saffron then you are a monk and have to be neutral. Not about to give up, I replied, I love the color too. What if I buy a sari in orange/saffron tomorrow? Will it mean I’ll have to give up my family and everything and become a sanyasin too?

Now there I had crossed the line as far as she was concerned or so her expression showed. I must have been made of ice not ot have gone up in flames at her look. She turned her face away and looked out of the window pointedly, ignoring me for the rest of the journey. Since I am used to this sort of cutting out, I utilized the time to daydream and catch up on some sleep.

Now here’s the funny part. Years later, I find that the same woman is now enthusiastically supporting a party whose members wear orange/saffron, and also hold political office. They agitate, go on rampages, make inflammatory speeches, burn effigies (even shoot them), talk of maiming and killing people, and follow through on that too. Not a word have I heard from her that members of her favorite party should either give up wearing orange/saffron and/or start behaving like true monks. Double standards, much?

© Shail Mohan 2019