The Passive Consumer vs. the Active Aficionado

The Passive Consumer

  • Listens to whatever music is playing on radio or streaming online
  • Watches TV shows when they are aired
  • Watches movies just released that everyone is talking about
  • Participates in trending conversations on social media
  • Enjoys cartoons, videos, and jokes forwarded on chat apps
  • Is generally too busy to read books

The Active Aficionado

  • Has built music playlists to suit every occasion, mood, and atmosphere
  • Is generally catching up with TV shows after choosing which to watch
  • Maintains a list of movies to watch and rates them after viewing
  • Needs help understanding what is trending on social media
  • Is rarely active on chat apps
  • Is busy reading books on her carefully curated to-read list
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Conscience and Guilt

When we say, express, or do something wrong, our conscience pricks us. It is a wound that hurts.

Often, we apply “quick relief” medication to that wound:

  • “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know” (when one very well knew)
  • “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you” (when one very well knew it could hurt)
  • “I had no idea my behavior would be perceived by you in that way, I’m sorry” (when one very well knew it could be perceived that way)
  • “Yes, in my writing that article, I copied from what was written earlier by someone else. I just didn’t think my article would be read so widely.”
    (Please forgive me for the theft, I didn’t think anyone would notice).
  • “I’m sorry darling, I did not initiate it. It was she who hugged me and then kissed me, I had no choice but to succumb.”
    (I did not withdraw from the hug and stop her from any further intimacy).
  • These “quick relief” medications are a short term solution to address the guilt we feel within ourselves.

Do these “quick relief” medications work in the long term? They may ameliorate the problem in our relationships, but they’re not long-term solutions.
The guilt persists. Our conscience doesn’t give up so easily, neither does it forget soon. Our conscience is a tough bastard with an unforgettable memory, and it just feels like a chained iron ball that restricts us from wandering free.

What do we next do to cling to support in our quest to ignore our conscience? Time.
We hope that over time, our mistake, our transgressions, and our wrong behavior will be forgotten and buried over the sands of time. That iron ball chained to us will become a forgotten archeological artifact.

If, in the short-term, we successfully apply “quick relief” medication, in the long term, our conscience will no longer remember those wounds and those mistakes.
But it doesn’t work that way. Our conscience is indomitable, even time doesn’t overpower it. Our feeble attempts to vanquish our guilt by waiting it out don’t work.

The only way to defeat and overpower our conscience is to accept the guilt, accept the mistake we made, internalize what we did wrong, and learn from it.
Conscience and guilt have no time limits, they will wait forever for us to accept our mistakes. We can’t overpower them by hoping they will fade and cease to exist over time.

We spend a lot of time in our lives evading, neglecting, and suppressing our conscience.
I think if we paid more attention to it, our lives would be so much happier.

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Learning on Teacher’s Day

We had a teacher in school who used to hit us with the edge of a wooden ruler on our knuckles when we were wrong. We also had a teacher who, when she entered the classroom, would be received by rambunctious hooligans shouting at the top of their voices. The amazing thing was, this teacher, went on teaching mathematics on the blackboard, seemingly impervious to the chaotic and boisterous scene in the classroom.

I pitied those teachers. They never really taught us anything. They seemed to be doing a job.

And then there were others.

There were those who cared about teaching. Mrs. Paradkar was my school teacher who went out of the way. She taught us Marathi and Sanskrit, but what stood out was her guidance during special events like 2nd October, the Gandhi Jayanti, and 15th August, the Independence Day. I was always a part of the singing group and she not only rehearsed us in the bhajans and the anthem, but also explained their meaning so we sang with conviction.

She took a liking to me over the years, and I visited her home. She fed me, and gifted me books of Swami Vivekananda, which I still treasure. There was no other teacher like her.

Being an unrealistic idealist, as a young kid, I felt I should not be studying in this restrictive Indian system of education, and decided to apply to US universities for an undergraduate admission. When needing recommendation letters from my school teachers, I was faced with a difficult problem. Which teacher, from a small suburb of Mumbai, would give me a nicely written recommendation letter for US universities? Mrs. Thomas came to the rescue and she gave me a nice letter that accompanied my applications. I will forever be indebted to her for her kindness.

In college, I was generally unhappy with my teachers and used to rebel against them. My rebellion was actually against the rigid academic system, not my professors, but I was too young to know that.

One professor stood out, Mr. Chugani. He did not just teach us following the syllabus, he made us think for ourselves. I felt so liberated at being able to do my own experiments in the mechanics lab, which were out of our syllabus, but still being able to conduct those experiments, write observations in our journal and have Professor Chugani review them.

That was true learning and Professor Chugani understood and encouraged it. I was blessed to have a teacher like him. I am also blessed to have made friends with him over the years.

Life itself is a great teacher, but we fail to learn from it. What we need is a helping hand, a guide, a mentor, who helps us navigate life’s difficulties.

On this Teacher’s Day, I bow to everyone who has taught me, and ask for their forgiveness if there was a lesson I did not learn. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that I did not learn enough from my teachers.

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The Unpleasant Visit to the Barber

I hate going to the barber to have a haircut. It is a complete waste of time and I am dismayed at the cumulative number of hours I have wasted of my life visiting the barber.

Of course, these days, nobody refers to a “barber shop”. It is a hairdresser, or saloon, a parlor, or a beautician. A saloon is a bar in the whole world, except in South Asia, where it is a barber shop. Whatever fancy names they come up with, for what they do with our hair, they are barbers.

Growing up in a middle-class family in urban Mumbai, I have become used to visiting these middle-income barber shops and don’t visit the fancier saloons or parlors. Also, I have found that the fancier the place, the more impersonally they treat you.

A visit to the barber, just like with a doctor, or dentist, starts with waiting. In this waiting period of time, I have a choice of glancing at sexy photo shopped Bollywood heroines in Filmfare or Stardust, today’s newspaper in English and the local language, or simply be busy on my mobile. All these shops must have these Bollywood glamour magazines, else they apparently don’t get any business.

Meanwhile I occasionally glance at the customers being served and wonder when they’re going to finish. Then I am amazed at how long men like looking at themselves in the mirror. Historically, this has been assumed to be a feminine trait, but visit any typical men’s barber shop in India and you will discover the truth.

They just don’t finish. There is a little strand here that should be trimmed or an angle there that is just not quite right. And there’s a bit of trimming required here and one hair that needs to be cut there. Then the barber holds up a mirror behind them so they can see their rear and then other requirements come up. This is when I seriously think that the customers have studied a Bollywood hero in those glamour magazines while they were waiting.

Barbers apparently don’t earn much so they have evolved to be masseuses. After the haircut, a head and shoulder massage seems as essential as dessert after a meal.

My approach when I finally get into the chair is “just do it, and get it done quickly”.

I do not like being tied with a noose around the neck with an overflowing towel. I do not like how the barber casually leans against me and I am left wondering if my elbow is inadvertently touching his groin instead of the stomach. I have to keep my mouth closed and be careful of my eyes to avoid the hair. I ponder over the existential question of how I am to instruct him verbally when I can’t open my eyes or mouth. I have to periodically request the barber to brush my face. On top of all this, I have to endure some pathetic music or movie on the TV that the barber uses to entertain himself.

By the time the exercise ends, the experience is not too different from a visit to the dentist. No wonder these guys once also performed surgery and dentistry.

Hair once served a useful function during the evolution process from apes to us. Why do we still have eyebrows and eyelashes and moustaches and beards but are not entirely covered in hair like apes or other animals? Because each has served an evolutionary function.

Those apes or cavemen wandered through the jungle in rain and inclement weather. Those whose eyes were protected by eyebrows and eyelashes survived. Others who did not have moustaches probably had some poison dripping into their mouth. Ones with beards had fewer scratches left on their face after fighting with wild animals, and whom the females then chose to mate with.

But what function does scalp hair play today other than providing a profession to barbers and hairdressers? It is just a useless evolutionary vestige, like the appendix. Which is why when I think of the barber, the barbarian comes to mind.

Also, when an advanced alien species is featured in mainstream culture, they are always bald.

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How Atheists Are Also Often Spiritual

Can an atheist be spiritual?

I posed this question on social media and the responses ranged from the resoundingly affirmative to outright negative. Example of the affirmative:

“Certainly. I’m an atheist, but I spend more time thinking about spiritual things & reading religious books than most theists I know.”

And the negative:

“The word spirit embodies something incorporeal and atheists should not not have a problem with it.”

I have visited this question several times over the years and have tended towards the affirmative.

It seems the objection to atheists being spiritual comes from an assumption that all atheists are materialists. Since “spirit”, “soul”, etc. are imaginary concepts without physical manifestations, an atheist should logically reject them. But atheism does not logically imply materialism.

The root cause of the ambiguity surrounding this issue is that spirituality has no universally accepted definition. When a concept remains undefined, subjective interpretations follow, leading to contradictory opinions and disagreements.

Throughout history, spiritualism has been hijacked by religion. After twenty one centuries of recorded human existence, one finds it difficult to discuss spirituality without being under the shadow of organized religion. That is sad and atheists are to blame. Which is why this post.

As an aside, also observe how the traditional age-old business of religious gurus has now evolved to encompass the agnostics and atheists by the advent of spiritual gurus.

I will not attempt at a definition of spirituality, but I will try to arrive at a meaning agreeable to most atheists, that helps the theists and agnostics understand how we atheists consider ourselves to be spiritual.

Spirituality is experiencing a connection between something deep inside you and something unknown in the outside world, an experience in which your self dissolves into nothingness and you are one with the universe.

The usual word used for “something deep inside you” is “soul” but I purposely avoided using it, since it can lead to further ambiguities. And yes, we atheists are comfortable with the fact that there are still limits to human knowledge, that we still need to refer to “something” deep inside you, and that many things in this universe are still unknown to us. We just don’t ascribe a God to them.

Some atheists experience this connection during meditation. Some when playing a sport, when they lose their consciousness and play sublimely. Some when gazing at the Milky Way. Some when listening to some particular music. Some when driving a car on an empty road. Some when intoxicated. Some when playing chess. Some when hypnotized. Some when watching distant galaxies through a telescope. Some when reading. Some when hiking on a mountain trail. Some when writing, as I am right now.

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A Confession of my Quirky Habits

This is an assorted compilation, coming from an unquiet mind. Here is a list of my quirks in no particular order.

  • I always arrange currency notes in order of denomination in my wallet. If my wallet has 3 compartments for currency notes, I can group them easily. If only 2, I use driving license or other card to create artificial separator so I can group in 3 – 500/1000s, 100/50s, and 20/10s.
  • I have a fixed time for heating my tea cup or coffee mug in the microwave. As the cup or mug rotates to the fixed time, the end result may not bring the cup or mug handle at a convenient position, thus I know how to exactly place it beforehand, so that it does.
  • During the old ‘80s era, I never took a cassette out of the cassette player unless it was completely wound to one side.
  • When I push my seat back in a flight, I secretly pray that the traveller behind me is not being inconvenienced. But I still secretly feel guilty somewhere deep inside for doing that without knowing it. Then I resolve my guilt ‘rationally’ saying to myself, either the passenger behind can let me know if there is any inconvenience or it’s the airline’s fault for designing seating this way anyway.
  • I can’t break an egg without thinking I’m destroying a life so I do it hesitantly and amateurishly.
  • I used to have the exact change for the bus fare before getting into a crowded bus, so I would not have to scramble when I buy my ticket from the conductor amidst the chaos inside the bus.
  • Most folks seem to enjoy watching movies while passing comments and making jokes about them. I can’t participate in this group-movie-watching, and prefer to watch movies by myself or with a close set of friends. I am not a popcorn-movie-watcher.
  • When travelling to interior parts of Indian states, when having a cup of tea or the local snacks, I leave whatever change there is to the vendor. I never give alms to beggars, but always give extra to rural folk who work for their hard earned money.
  • I never leave an opened book turned upside down at the page I was reading. For anyone who worships books, that is blasphemy. Either use a bookmark or remember the page. I am disgusted at people who keep opened books upturned.
  • I always install a new version of Windows as a fresh install, never upgrade. Yes, I need to reinstall all the apps I need, but I think it’s worth it.
  • I can never leave a newspaper without all its pages folded correctly and arranged in the fashion it came out of the printing press. I dislike people who treat newspapers casually leaving pages scattered.
  • I can never understand people who can switch from one genre of music to another seamlessly. To me, it seems the music never percolates into their soul, they just listen to it superficially.

These are a few of my eccentric habits. But that is me.

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The Fifth Pillar of Indian Democracy

Indian democracy is said to rest on the venerable four pillars of the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, and the press.

All the four pillars have cracked to a great degree and Indian democracy is not healthy.

In brief, we have:

  • A legislature epitomized by a non-functioning Parliament
  • An executive whose power is centralized in two individuals
  • A judiciary that is outdated, backlogged, and corrupt
  • A press that has no freedom of speech

Let me elaborate.


We have a strong government with anti-national right-wing extremist elements who brazenly continue to disrupt the social fabric with its Hindutva agenda, resulting in increasing hostility in radical Islamists, and a leadership that abstains from publicly denouncing them.

We have a crumbling, dynastic, and leaderless national opposition party, which refuses to evolve beyond its myopic, historical and outdated thinking.

Finally, we have a plethora of regional and/or caste-based parties with populist agendas and democratic power to disrupt the legislative process of our Parliament, none of whom act beyond regional or caste-based ideologies in national interest, acting instead to attract attention with histrionics.

For a healthy democracy, with a thriving legislature, we need to have a credible opposition.


There are no serious debates about any legislative act; the only opposition to any legislation is driven by populist political agendas that sacrifice national interest at every opportunity. The legislature is now so severely handicapped that the government has to resort to “ordinances”, i.e. the executive, to enact, i.e. act.


It is no secret that our current crop of ministers are only puppets pulled by strings held by the PM.

Other countries may well be forgiven for not knowing who India’s Foreign Minister is, for the PM has personally dominated foreign policy and visits in conspicuous absence of the FM.

A well functioning executive would have a Cabinet of Ministers where discussions and debates happen, but nobody in India has any illusions about what transpires in today’s cabinet: diktats from PM end all discussions and debates. In previous governments, it was the dynastic “high command”.

A cohesive, dictatorial Executive is good for the country in terms of efficiency and reforms, but not when it compromises sustainability in the long term.

As in-depth observers note, India’s Executive is controlled by only two men: Our PM and FM. Which is at best unhealthy, given the history of India’s diversity, reasoned democratic dissent and debate.


We have a judiciary burdened with a huge backlog and a history of corruption.

A judiciary that has become embroiled in governance issues because of corruption in government.

A judiciary whose Supreme Court ex-justice thinks a Bollywood starlet should be the President of India. A former Supreme Court judge (ex-High Court of Delhi, Chennai, and Allahabad) who ranks Chief Ministerial candidates based on their feminine beauty.

A judiciary which upholds Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code framed in 1860, that considers homosexual intercourse as a criminal offence. In case you wonder why, read this from the former Supreme Court judge:

“To fulfill this role of nature, a woman has to get hold of a man, not merely to make her pregnant, but also to look after her and provide for her financially while she is performing this role.”


We have a press whose freedom of speech no longer exists, a media that is owned and controlled by corporate conglomerates, and TV channels that are besotted with covering every political melodrama on a minute-by-minute basis irrespective of its irrelevance in national or long term significance.

The more melodramatic minutiae the media happily laps up as “Breaking News” in the endless quest for higher TRPs, the more political parties are happy to supply the goods, further incapacitating the legislature.

The Silent Fifth Pillar

Is there hope? Yes, there is.

There is a fifth pillar of our democracy which unfortunately has not been christened as such, never given its due in the theoretical framework of pillars underpinning democracies.


That pillar is the Indian citizen, who has been gloriously featured on the front page of India’s leading daily newspaper for over five decades.

The “common man” is always silent, except when it is election time. His “voice” is heard only once in every five years.


In the last general election, he has spoken the loudest in two decades. Still, neither the opposition, nor the extremist elements in the ruling government have listened.

As an optimist, I have faith he will continue to speak. With all the other so-called “pillars” of our democracy crumbling, the true, solid pillar of the Indian citizen is our only hope for generations to come.

P.S. If you have read this far, please do also read the first “related post” from 2009.

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Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, Bipolar Disorder and Manic Depression

I grew up watching Jeremy Brett in one of my best loved TV series of Sherlock Holmes.Jeremy_Brett_as_Hamlet

Brett was the quintessential Holmes, nobody, neither Basil Rathbone nor Benedict Cumberbatch can come close to epitomizing the essential Sherlock. In 2014, Brett was voted the Greatest Sherlock Holmes beating other actors who have also played the iconic role.

For a stage actor who played Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, Sherlock must have been very easy. Not so.

“Holmes is the hardest part I have ever played – harder than Hamlet or Macbeth.”

What I, and I suspect many, don’t know is that Jeremy had a mental illness.

Jeremy_Brett_as_Sherlock_HolmesIn the latter half of 1986, he exhibited wild mood swings that alarmed everybody, and after persuasion to seek treatment of bipolar disorder, he was given Lithium. This is why his physical appearance noticeably changed in the episodes filmed after 1987. He put on weight and his body started retaining water. He would have difficulties breathing and often needed an oxygen mask during the filming.

“But, darlings, the show must go on”, was his only comment.

As a romantic, my unquiet mind has often been tempted to think that it was playing Sherlock, truly imbibing the character he was portraying, that led to his mental illness.

But that is wrong. There are definite psychological effects of method acting but that was not the case with Brett. He was a victim of bipolar disorder whether he played Sherlock or not.

In his later years, he publicly acknowledged his illness and strove to raise public awareness about it. Here is a rare audio voice over of Jeremy Brett talking about bipolar depression.

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“Holy Shit” of Terror: Middle Ages & Renaissance

Serial killers are a special kind of breed for law enforcement agencies. This has been a popular germ for numerous movies and countless novels. Detectives investigating serial murders build a profile of the killer based on gathered evidence, then match clues to the profile, which eventually lead them to the identity of the serial killer. In these investigations, the Behavioral Sciences Unit of the FBI plays a major role in the initial profiling.Zodiac_blog_2100x147

Where is An Unquiet Mind going with this, you may wonder.

I am reading Michael Connelly’s A Darkness More Than Night, a regular police procedural.

Among the different types of serial murderers, there is one category of cases where religion is involved. These cases are colloquially termed “Holy Shit” cases by FBI profilers.

Cave Cave Dus Videt
Cave Cave D(ominu)us Videt
Beware Beware God Sees

“Holy Shit,” McCaleb said quietly to himself. It was not said as an exclamation. Rather, it was the phrase he and fellow bureau profilers had used to informally classify cases in which religious overtures were part of the evidence. When God was discovered to be part of the probable motivation for a crime, it became a “holy shit” case when spoken of in casual conversation.

This is where the unquiet mind kicked in full gear. What followed next:

It also changed things significantly, for God’s work was never done. When a killer was out there using His name as part of the imprint of a crime, it often meant there would be more crimes. It was said in the bureau profiling offices that God’s killers never stopped of their own volition. They had to be stopped.

Substitute a mob in place of a serial killer and what you have is a seemingly unstoppable mob society committing mass murder in the name of God. The history of religious violence over thousands of years of human history is proof. Name a religion and there is a group committing mass murder in its name, at any point in human history, past or present.

How about Stalin and Hitler who committed genocide of millions, but were not associated with any religious idealism?

What distinguishes the indescribable atrocities committed by Stalin and Hitler is precisely what Connelly, though unintentionally, observed above. Neither Stalin’s or Hitler’s heirs propagated the genocide. They were stopped, permanently. The ideology behind their actions could not survive reality and the collective human force on the planet. However, in the case of religion, ideology overcomes reality – religious ideology, when it’s God-motivated, is a difficult cockroach to exterminate.

In this and the past century, God-based violence has been decried by the “peace-loving” religious advocates as being positions of “extremist” factions, for whom the religion is “peace-loving”, and is thus, not to blame.

From the past Christian crusades to the current Muslim jihad, from Saffron terror to Sikh extremism, all religions have caused mass-serial-killings on an unimaginable scale. Holy shit.

Observe the nature of change in religious violence. It was easier in medieval eras to isolate and burn heretics on the stake. In the modern world, it’s not so easy, hence one needs to make a public statement of violence against the public in general. Because much of today’s public is “civilized”. The medieval strategies of burning heretics on the stake don’t work in today’s society, so they need to kill on the mass scale to make a statement.

It is called “terrorism” in recent decades, but its roots lie in thousands of years past.

Is human society fully “civilized”? Not at all, most of them still hold one or the other religion as their philosophy of life, while decrying violence on that religion’s behalf.

It took thousands of years for humans to emerge out of the darkness of the Middle Ages, which was followed by the Renaissance. I am just hoping that we evolve out of our current Digital-Middle-Age so that our kids or our grandchildren can achieve peaceful glory and happiness in their Digital Renaissance.

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Who is an “Intellectual”?

During my younger days, I used to distinguish people by whether they were intellectual or not.

In those years, I was naïve enough to express it directly: “Sorry, but you’re not an intellectual.” It was much later that I realized what an insult it was to my friends.

Almost all my friends and everyone who knew me then started to use the term derogatively. From “Oh, I can’t understand this because I’m not an intellectual” to “Oh, this is mainstream common knowledge, but you wouldn’t know it, because you’re an intellectual”. These expressions were expressed with a sneer, as if being an intellectual, I was somehow to blame, and should be ashamed of myself.

As a result, I stopped using this concept in all my communication with people because I realized it was being perceived as judgmental.

Then I observed how this adjective was being regularly used in mainstream literature and media, from TV shows to newspaper op-eds. “Intellectuals” were folks who were leftist and activists for the Marxist cause. “Intellectuals” were those who go on hunger strikes against any and all capitalistic endeavor.”Intellectuals” were sympathizers with the Maoist insurgency in India. “Intellectuals” were those who lead the workers of a labor union to fight against the injustice being meted out to them by their evil corporate bigwigs.

I have not seen any concept that has been so distorted, twisted to utilize for or against propaganda, misunderstood, and most often misinterpreted. A virtue that has been adjudicated as a vice,  a quality that is considered derogatory and spoken of in pejorative terms, derided being an “intellectual”.

The fundamental misunderstanding is the perception that not being an intellectual equates to not being intelligent. Because the words are so phonetically close, not being an intellectual is most often perceived as not being intelligent. Which is obviously an insult if you ever express it to anyone.

Every intelligent person is not an intellectual, and neither is every intellectual person intelligent.

All of us have a lot of beliefs by which we live our lives. These beliefs are our axioms. When someone questions one of those beliefs, we react defensively. We are rarely willing to listen and challenge that belief. There is a barrier.


If we jump across that barrier, there is a whole new world to discover.

Beliefs permeate through society via osmosis. An intellectual is one who is impermeate to that osmosis. An intellectual is one who is not only willing to challenge his beliefs, but one who will be grateful to you if you do so. An intellectual is one who does not automatically imbibe his society’s value system but questions it. An intellectual asks “Why?” before he adopts a belief.

An intellectual is an iconoclast. But that is not something to be ashamed of, or feel guilty about, it is in fact, something to be cherished.

Talk to an intellectual about any topic under the sun, and he will either tell you something about the topic you didn’t know yourself, or be grateful to you for teaching him something new. An intellectual is that adult who has not lost his childhood curiosity.

An intellectual is one who not only thinks but is willing to think.

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