Why is Chennai coating its homes increasingly in fluorescent colours, notably yellow?
It feels like just a few years ago. The imperial red of Chennai’s high court, museum, senate and university buildings bowed low to the chrome and glass of India Inc.’s IT, reflecting the changing horizons of the economy. Now the wave of construction washing over the city is leaving a bright sunflower trail behind. Why is Chennai going yellow, red, orange?
If you’re one of those who believe East and West can never meet, pick up yellow to colour your argument. Outside our borders, yellow has a ne’er-do-well reputation. You’ve heard of yellow journalism or the yellow press (you really don’t want to hear them). If you’re a yellow-bellied or have a yellow streak, you’d want to hide it. Take a jaundiced view of life, and friends don’t return calls.
In contrast, yellow and maroon are auspicious symbols for us. Even in the era of DTP, laser-printing, online invites and mobile messaging, we print those smooth, glossy invitations in Tamil — cherry red outside, mango yellow inside. No happy news travels without a spot of turmeric powder pinched into the corners. The only sour note in this saga is the manjakkadudasu (insolvency notice). Check out the old houses being demolished to make way for high-rises. White shell and lime paste with a tinge of blue shaded the drawing room while the kitchen, store and definitely the outside walls sport a well-recognised Gobi, a long tradition here. Now yellow is enjoying a revival, in dazzling glory.
Earth colours are everywhere, as stripes, on the sides, covering entire walls. S. Krishnaswamy of Krishnaswamy Associates, MG road, Adyar takes credit for being one of the first in the area to launch the ochre trend. “We planned to do up the building, and the painter recommended this bright yellow for the exterior,” he said. Wife Mona who wasn’t sold on it “felt it was a bit loud for us.” The guy insisted that a building bathed in fluorescent yellow would stand out in a crowd of commercial complexes. “I suggested white bands in the sea of yellow and name-letters in maroon. Auspicious, you know. What do you think of the effect now?” The film-maker, of course, is the best judge.
Photo hobbyist Velachery Balu is fascinated by the rash of fluorescent colours that coat houses across the city. “I’ve tracked and shot them in Velachery and Triplicane,” he announced. “My camera couldn’t take its eye off the stunning exteriors.” He isn’t very sure of the aesthetics. A few carry it off, most are eye sores, he shrugs.
Balu has captured buildings that have scattered walls covered in yellow care. “If you’re visiting Vivek in Mylapore, check out the apartment opposite,” he directs. “Portions of walls have yellow. Gods seem to bless this spreading phenomenon. A temple in Gummidipoondi has had a brush with bright ochre.”
“Chennai-ites are generally conservative in choosing home washes,” said a surprised Kavita Deviprasad, architect. “So many houses now break out in yellows, oranges and reds. May be people want to brighten up their lives.” It’s a trend, she agrees, but one that’s a tad too vivid. Is it Vaastu? Vaastu doesn’t speak of preferences in colours, believes Balu. Zodiac signs have their matching hues (Sagittarius, Pisces – yellow), but they aren’t graded as good and bad. “Friends tell me the trend was started by paint companies hoping to push slow moving colours,” he said. An Asian Paints rep vehemently denied the allegation. “We promote them as contrasts, different from the ordinary.”
On the Elliot’s beachfront, Daljeeti Singh is busy re-doing his popular eatery, Cozee. A side-wall stands in sizzling yellow to match name-board above. “Vaastu and numerology you know,” he confirms emphatically. “And my guru’s advice. I was born on Wednesday and buthan (Mercury) is yellow, right? Mine is kumbh raasi, so I need to introduce green, white and orange somewhere. I’ve moved my kitchen here and will be painting it soon. It’s a concept, but you can’t deny its appeal to the customer. You were forced to look across the road at my restaurant, weren’t you?”