Is there a Pranchiyettan lurking in an average Malayali? Is that why our landscape is being altered by garishly painted buildings that are an eyesore?

As I drove up the Palayam underpass in the heart of the city, two blue pillars started coming into view right in front of the Kerala University building. Having spent 20 years in advertising, I wondered how a paint company could have set up such a large marketing kiosk – that too right in front of the Senate Hall. In a few seconds, I almost knocked down a motorcyclist as I realised that it was the entrance to the University building that was wearing the terrible blue.

Why on earth is Kerala being plagued by the colour epidemic? In the midst of a soothing green plantation, an unbelievably fluorescent-orange house leaps out and slaps you in the face. As you drift into the peace of the backwaters, at every turn an aggressive violet, a brazen pink or an electric blue monster confronts you. And god-forbid, tomorrow the entire University campus might metamorphose into the exterior of certain Government schools which now believe that splashing vibrant colours all over is a bright marketing idea. A clear pointer to where the next generation is going to catch this epidemic.

Myriad reasons

What ails Kerala? Is the traditionally healthy sensibility of the average Malayali slowly collapsing?

Is the carrier the nouveau riche, who strive thus to announce their presence to compensate for their silent, innocuous existence abroad? Somewhere deep down inside is there a ‘Pranchiyettan' in every Malayali that could surface and do up his house in a manner that would make the worst art director in the industry shrivel up and die in shame? Is the Malayali becoming loud and aggressive? Is this the last resort of a Malayali whose life becomes utterly colourless? Or is it a bitter concatenation of all these?

Kerala in itself is a riot of colours – which is probably why we have a tradition of white and off-white when it comes to houses or the long-honoured attire of men and women. Our innate visual fabric held art, culture and nature in a fine balance, nurturing a highly evolved aesthetic sensibility. A sensibility that was not corrupted by the changes that swept the landscape as well as the mindscape of Kerala.

In fact, it was this in-built sensibility that kept us going for a long time. Backed, of course, by the presence of institutions as well as individuals who were its unofficial defenders. But today, we've reached a point where we need tangible intervention. We need to create a local development framework like London did or a city council like Paris has. Because in Kerala, other than in the coastal zones and on the immediate banks of rivers and lakes, anyone can buy land and construct whatever he or she pleases and paint it any painful colour that he or she chooses.

Intervention required

This intervention is crucial for many reasons. Slowly, but steadily, there is an increasing floating population in Kerala that will eventually settle down here. Tourism is attracting all kinds of investors, some of whom don't seem to understand that the success of Kerala lies in sustaining the peace and quiet rather than in creating plastic attractions such as theme parks that abound elsewhere. And most importantly, the increasing tendency of the common man to disregard the intangible norm and do precisely what he wants.

The individual has never enjoyed such an unbridled power of expression – today every one is a photographer, videographer, writer, blogger, tweeter and what not, plugged in and contributing actively to what will soon evolve into the collective consciousness of the world.

This outpouring of expression has unleashed seven oceans of mediocrity into the world – even the most powerful bastions of art and culture will need help to withstand this onslaught or to evolve into something new, yet meaningful.

The ideal solution would be for the Department of Culture to form city councils comprising people from multiple disciplines – people who are sensitive, sensible, honest and respected – and entrust them with the mandate of designing cities based on parameters that are relevant to our geography, climate, heritage and the future of our environment. The priority of course, should be saving our public buildings and parks from being infected by the colour epidemic.

Let us sincerely hope that all this will happen in time to ensure that the University campus does not blush in various shades of blue.