If I was to choose a favourite word, I might have chosen this one; Indigo. I have written about this before (here) when I said this;
I think it reminds me of something half remembered from primary school- a reading set of books that only the keen readers ever progressed to taking home.
Or an ink pen whose innards bled blue blood all over my fingers.
It describes colour, distance, depth. It contains a promise of space beyond space- like a night sky.
Gregory of Nyssia, a 4th Century mystic, likened the move towards God as to a journey into holydarkness. He suggested that the deeper and further we go, the more darkness we find in the light. For him, God is unknowable- a dark purple mystery, drawing us on- calling us to explore further and further…
In we go.
Then I discover something I did not know about indigo; and that is that like sugar, tobacco, mahogany and many other exotic luxuries that we have come to believe should be ours almost by right, indigo has had a terrible cost.
See for yourself;
Benegal, 1779-1859The fields flame with it, endless, blueas cobra poison. It has entered our bloodand pulses up our veinslike night. There is no other color.The planter’s whipsplits open the flesh of our faces,a blue liquid light tricklesthrough the fingers. Blue dyes the lungswhen we breathe. Only the obstinate eyesrefuse to forget where once the riceparted the earth’s moist skinand pushed up reed by reed,green, then rippled goldlike the Arhiyal’s waves. Stitchedinto our eyelids, the broken dark,the torches of the planter’s men, firewalling like a tidal waveover our huts, ripe charred grainthat smelled like flesh. And the windscreaming in the voices of womendragged to the plantation,feet, hair, torn breasts.In the worksheds, we dip our hands,their violent forever blue,in the dye, pack it in great embossed chestsfor the East India Company.Our ankles gleam thin blue from the chains.After that nightmany of the women killed themselves.Drowning was the easiest.Sometimes the Arhiyal gave us backthe naked, swollen bodies, the faceseaten by fish. We hold onto red, the color of their saris,the marriage mark on their foreheads,we hold it carefully insideour blue skulls, like a manin the cold Paush nightholds in his cupped palms a spark,its welcome scorch,feeds it his foggy breath till he can set it downin the right place,to blaze up and burstlike the hot heart of a starover the whole horizon,a burning so beautiful you want itto never end.NotePaush: name of a winter month in the Bengali calendarThe planting of indigo was forced on the farmers of Bengal, India, by the British, who exported it as a cash crop for almost a hundred years until the peasant uprising of I860, when the plantations were destroyed.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, “Indigo,” from Leaving Yuba City: Selected Poems (New York: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1997).