Red, one night in Shanghai / Arathi Devandran

I became acquainted with the colour red when I was a child.

On my mother’s forehead, always a smear of vermillion. On my mother’s hands, on occasion, burnt red, hennaed fingers.

In the distance, when we visited the temple where the Goddess lived (or so I was told), a flash of red and gold, and a twinkling nose ring. For nights afterwards, I would dream that I would look up from the flash of red and gold and see sparkling eyes blessing me. In the middle of the night I would awaken, my heart beating somewhere in my mouth.

When I was a little older, I was at the beach one day and I felt a terrible pain. I looked down, and there was red, dripping. That day I was told that this was the red of being a woman.

You’re a big girl now. You must take care of yourself.

That day, I began to understand, a little bit, about red, and caution, and danger.


Have you seen the reds in Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love?

I have never seen a man who knows how to use red on a woman like Wong. It is the colour of love, and passion, and anger, and insanity, and intense compassion, and even silence, also a softness that comes with a hard edge. In the film, Maggie Cheung wears her red as any woman does – as an armour, as amour.

In Shanghai one night, I found myself in a moment that was almost, just about a Wong Kar Wai film. Floating red dragons nearly brushed my ears, and if I closed my eyes and peered through the smallest of slits, I could see one press a soft kiss to the back of my neck.

I raced up a flight of stairs and careened down to the floor along a winding slide, and as the colours shifted in front of my eyes, all the red in the air converged into a single point in the middle of my forehead, and I could almost feel my mother’s vermillion being written upon me.

As I righted myself, the dragons swayed, and if you had taken a picture at that very moment, you would have thought that you too, were almost, just about in a Wong Kar Wai film.

And I would have asked you, are you in the mood for love?


In the Autobiography of Red, Carson writes (of roses, red but also I think of lovers):

“Four of the roses were on fire.

They stood up straight and pure on the stalk, gripping the dark like prophets

and howling colossal intimacies

from the back of their fused throats.



Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry

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