Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Colourful Creativity: A Lesson from Rangoli

Early this November Indians worldwide celebrated the Festival of Lights, Diwali. In my house, one of the annual traditions is a colourful design drawn on the floor, usually near the entrance, with either dry coloured powder or flower petals, or both, called a ‘Rangoli’.

This year, we decided to keep it simple, and instead of buying a lot of new colours for the rangoli, we would simply reuse the leftover colours from the last few years. When I finally sat down to fill the design drawn by my mom (another tradition, she draws, I fill), I realised that some of the colours only had a tiny amount left, not enough for an entire section. One had even lost its original colour, and all that remained was a dirty grey hue. My mom and I puzzled over what to do, and initially I embarked on using the colours I had in larger quantities.
But soon I tired of the same colours, and wanted a change. That’s when we decided to mix different shades of the same colour together, using up different types of yellow in varying quantities, or mixing different pinks together. It turned out quite well, so I decided to be bolder, and mix blue and green to form a new shade. That resulted in my favourite colour, teal, and became the focal point of the finished design. And in the process, I discovered that I could mix the colours together to form more interesting tints, and there was no need to be confined to the traditional hues sold by the merchants every year.
I also learnt a larger lesson about creativity. Sometimes we look at what we have in front of us to complete a project, our resources, our time, maybe even our talent, and we feel discouraged thinking that it is insufficient to create something beautiful or accomplished. We tell ourselves that if only we had better quality materials, more time, if only we had more skills, we could create a masterpiece. However, this experience taught me that sometimes scarce resources lead us to improvise and maybe even innovate in a way that we couldn’t have imagined with unlimited resources. In Twyla Tharp’s excellent book about creativity, she makes this very same point.
Sometimes, even when we have just a few minutes or only a few materials, we can create something remarkable. This Diwali I was happy to simply continue our tradition of creating a rangoli, and create something that was just passable. However, it turned out that it was the best rangoli we had ever made.
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