The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

One Colour: Red

A deceased prawn stared at me from a bowl of tom yum soup. Red chillies surrounded the carcass. Red is the colour of cliché. Spicy, sensual, hot, communist, blood, lips — these associations are dull enough to tranquillize a charging hamster.

Chili in water melon juice

Cold and spicy.

Why do you travel? To be in a cliché? To guzzle Campari sodas on the beach, and squeak “omg, we are so crazy?” Or do you choose to make an effort and discover sparks of originality? With the colour red, the case is not easy.

Colours at a market in India

Among other colours.

Start with understanding the trials and tribulations of the life of a colour. For instance, India is flooded with all things red. The country is also flooded with all things yellow, blue, pink, purple, orange, green, and any other colour you can or cannot name. Red is lost in the cacophony. For every streak of red-coloured spittle of paan that trickles down the wall, there is also a yellow stain of urine, a brown smear of undefined excretion, and the white of a movie poster being consumed by an opportunistic goat. Colours have to fight to get noticed. They have to elbow their way, subduing the hordes of other colours craving for attention. India is a harsh place to be a colour. You must rise above the masses or vanish.

Indian women carrying clothes to the river.

Point well made.

When you arise, you become conspicuous. A uniquely Indian marvel, the three-wheeled, two-stroke auto-rickshaw subjugated the roads of the subcontinent. It also made it to Guatemala, but forgoing its usual black-and-yellow or green colour, it comes in Ferrari red. Speed, luxury, hot babes — these are things you will not encounter while riding the Latino turbo rickshaw. There is so much a colour can do.

Red Bajaj in Guatemala

Mamacita rica, hop in my asphalt-tearing vehicle. I’ll take you for the hottest ride of your life.

Moving away from Indian connotations, Ireland is a place where red stands out because a few subdued colours dominate to palette. There is the green of the pastures where forests used to be a thousand years ago. There is also the grey of the skies that are ever generous in drenching the terrain in slime. Then there is the colour of vomit on the streets that the drunk innards of the population produce in abundance. In such a context, a blob of red draws immediate and undivided attention. It makes you wonder: things can have other colours than puke and grey? How great is that?

Then the rain comes, a dull layer of slime fades the sharpness of red. A college kid will find the spot tempting to chunder over. Grass will manifest itself — the sheep must graze on something. The power of red evaporates in a few days, perhaps in a few weeks. If a colour is too out of line, it will be assimilated by the envious milieu.

Red house in Ireland

Landscape temporarily conquered by red.

The multitude of colours routs red in India. The lack of multitude destroys red in Ireland. These are two extremes: most cultures assign a special role to red. For instance, Maasai alpha males advertise their alphaness by wearing red-chequered robes. This serves a two-pronged purpose. It makes the Maasai warrior easier to notice for the lions. If you kill the lion, you are alpha. If the lion kills you, next time do not wear red. The second purpose is related to the favourite preoccupation of the Maasai people. They follow the Premier League, and they are devout Manchester United fans. The colour of the robes matches the jersey they wear underneath. Stylish attire comes in different forms, and as an alpha male, you must pay special attention to details.

Masai people

Red: the colour of choice of Maasai alpha males. You never know how many of them wear a Manchester United jersey underneath.

On the way to becoming an alpha male, there comes a time when you must become aware of your sexuality. That time might come unexpected: for instance, when you are sitting in the middle of a void deck, with onlookers staring at your awakening. If you are a sun bear living in captivity in an Indonesian zoo, chances are high that circumstances will be so. As a red, oblong entity emerges from your groin, continue awakening undisturbed. The giggling lasses might learn a thing or two.

Sun bear

The red dot of sexual awakening.

More shameless forms of wildlife come with their entire body red. How did a centipede decide to evolve to be red? It is an exclamation mark in the jungle: “I am the awakening! Follow my ways to sensual gratification you never experienced before.” If you decide to follow, you will learn more about outrageous centipede orgies than you ever wanted.

Red centipede

Crawling red, hot ecstasy.

Tame wildlife instead of following. If you own an unruly feline, harness the beast with a red leash. The red leash will mesmerise the cat. With eyes wide open in eagerness, it will obey your bidding no matter what that might be. Command the cat to wait outside the pub until you drink yourself to unconsciousness. Then make the cat carry you home. This is why we domesticated cats at the first place. We domesticated horses to jump around our bookshelves, and chickens to give us milk. Each species to its own role.

Cat on red leash

Restrain your cat with red leash alone.

Red also mesmerises mountaineers, not just cats. When they reach the base camp, they like to cluster around red tents, ignoring all the other tents. Stricken by altitude sickness, suffering from low blood oxygen, jolly mountaineers will sit around in the red tent. They will occasionally say things like “I think my entire right hand is frostbitten.” To which somebody will reply, “you can cut it off later, when you are back from the summit.” The red glow from the light sifting through the tent makes them look less like corpses. Time goes by.

The red tent of social activity at a base camp.

The red tent of social activity at a base camp.

Taking a chunk of red with them, some mountaineers prefer to sport appropriately coloured gear. Whether its their entire outer layer, or the helmet alone, it is up to the individual. As long as you wear red, you are a social hub. Avalanches are, however, colour-blind. You are buried alive, and your dead body will only be retrieved a thousand years later, when the glacier disgorges it in a river. The eternal polyurethane of the red helmet will tell the future people how social your skull had been.

Mountaineer sporting a red helmet.

Communicate from the afterlife with your red helmet.

Red becomes interesting when it is out of context. One compelling reason to travel is to dabble in unusual contexts. It is up to you: which side of red do you choose to see?


Rodent, you are not red enough.

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