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.

Posted in philosophy, religion | Tagged , | 2 Comments

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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The fallacy of “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”

We love flow­ers. We use flow­ers in our romance, we gift bou­quets to our friends on spe­cial occa­sions. Flow­ers let us share hap­pi­ness and good wishes with many, thanks to their beauty. We love watch­ing beau­ti­ful water­falls. We get excited, as if we were chil­dren, when there is a beau­ti­ful rain­bow in the sky. We adore iconic beau­ti­ful actresses. From Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe to Ingrid Bergman, from Nutan to Mad­hubala, they hold us spell­bound with their hyp­notic beauty.tumblr_m5koufOOSu1qkmctto1_500

Does the flower know it is beau­ti­ful? Is every drop in those water­falls aware that is is con­tribut­ing, in its own way, to the beauty of grandeur? Does a rain­bow even know about its con­stituent refracted col­ors in the human vis­i­ble spec­trum? Would these actresses have real­ized their own beauty if there were no glass mir­rors or if there was no audi­ence pub­lic­ity mirror?

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” is a main­stream phrase in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It is fre­quently used to denote sub­jec­tiv­ity in beauty. What I might find dis­gust­ing, you may find beau­ti­ful, is the sub­jec­tiv­ity sub­stan­ti­ated and ratio­nal­ized with this oft-used phrase.

What is miss­ing from this obses­sive focus on sub­jec­tive inter­pre­ta­tion of beauty is the inher­ent man­i­fes­ta­tion of beauty in the object or in the cog­ni­tion of its cre­ator. Did the Mona Lisa know how many cen­turies she would con­tinue to mys­tify art lovers?

Did Da Vinci know that his paint­ing would con­tinue to mys­tify art lovers for cen­turies? Did Michelan­gelo know that the objects of art he was cre­at­ing would be revered for­ever? Are the sub­jec­tive opin­ions of Van Gogh’s works dur­ing his life­time a defin­i­tive asser­tion of their lack of beauty? Were these works ugly when cre­ated and only gain beauty later when behold­ers’ eyes started per­ceiv­ing their beauty? Or were they inher­ently, intrin­si­cally beau­ti­ful when cre­ated, though no behold­ers’ eyes saw the beauty?

Does the audience’s response dur­ing the first per­for­mance of The Rite of Spring deter­mine its beauty? Did Galileo’s tele­scope lack beauty because those who beheld it in his life­time had a dif­fer­ent con­cep­tion of beauty and lacked his vision of look­ing towards the heav­ens? (To those who still do, he has an ever­last­ing response). Are those of us who think it was beau­ti­ful delu­sional as we have never even laid eyes on his tele­scope and thus do not have a right to a behold­ers’ opinion?

Is beauty really sub­jec­tive if you con­sider the ques­tion over hun­dreds of years? Do we think our Insta­gram pho­tos are going to be con­sid­ered “beau­ti­ful” by human gen­er­a­tions in 2050, or 2200, irre­spec­tive of the “Likes” we get in 2014? At the same time, do we think the 2050 gen­er­a­tion is not going to look at any pho­tographs taken in 2014 and con­sider them beautiful?

It is eas­ier for us to appre­ci­ate art inspired by nat­ural beauty than one based on pure human imag­i­na­tion. From land­scape paint­ings to origami craft, from Beethoven’s Pas­torale to national anthems, we eas­ily per­ceive their beauty, but find abstract imag­i­na­tive art chal­leng­ing to appre­ci­ate. Why?

Because we can asso­ciate and relate to the beauty of a natural-inspired work with our own expe­ri­ences of that object’s inher­ent beauty — whether it is a land­scape, a beau­ti­ful bird, the coun­try­side, or our patri­otic emo­tions. Appre­ci­a­tion of beauty derives through asso­ci­a­tion and rela­tion. If one is able to asso­ciate with or relate to the object, one is able to appre­ci­ate the beauty of the object. Does this mean the beauty of the object lies com­pletely in the eyes of the beholder or is there intrin­sic beauty in the object itself?

Yet, after cen­turies of human exis­tence, we con­tinue to employ and focus on the phrase “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Does it, really? By def­i­n­i­tion, behold­ing means to observe, to gaze upon.

Behold­ing does not, by def­i­n­i­tion, involve com­pre­hen­sion, rela­tion, or asso­ci­a­tion of any kind.

Why have we not pro­gressed towards the accep­tance of the fact that beauty can lie inher­ent within the object that is being observed and that it is only via its inter­pre­ta­tions through art that we come to real­ize its beauty?

The con­cept of the “eye of the beholder” is a sub­jec­tive detri­ment, an obsta­cle, to the clas­si­cal con­cept of beauty, which seems to hold true over time. Those who live by that phrase, those who profit from it, and those who accept it, either have an agenda or are being very short-sighted about beauty.

Beauty lies in the object itself, artists help us dis­cern it. The “eye of the beholder” con­cept is a crutch invented by us ordi­nary humans who fail to per­ceive the innate beauty in the object itself.

The beholder is usu­ally blind, the artist is the one who sees the beauty. The beauty exists, whether there is an artist who sees it or a beholder who is blind to it.

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The Wheels of Friendship

When I reached high school, my curios­ity led me to won­der, how do a train’s wheels, which are on a fixed axle, nego­ti­ate a curve?

If a pair of wheels nego­ti­ate a curve, the outer wheel has to travel a greater dis­tance than the inner wheel. How can this hap­pen when both wheels are on a fixed axle? It was a few years later that I found the answer.


The wheels of a train are not flat, they are cone-shaped.


When nego­ti­at­ing a curve, the cen­trifu­gal force of the train mov­ing along the curve results in the outer wheel rotat­ing with a larger diam­e­ter while the inner wheel rotates with a smaller one.

(A big thanks and grat­i­tude to Dani­jel for these sim­ple, illus­tra­tive fig­ures. And in those years and sev­eral years hence, I often won­der how oth­ers, even adults, don’t have the same ques­tions I had as a kid).

A friend­ship is quite akin to a pair of wheels. It is in har­mony when both the wheels turn with the same rhythm, both travel the same jour­ney, towards the same destination.

What hap­pens with friend­ships that are on a curve, when one wheel feels the need to travel to a dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tion? Is the other flex­i­ble enough to be cone-shaped to accommodate?

Most peo­ple who drive a car never won­der about how this dif­fer­ence in the dis­tance wheels travel on a turn is achieved via the engi­neer­ing genius of the dif­fer­en­tial gear.


The dif­fer­en­tial gear enables one wheel to travel a greater dis­tance than the other, thus allow­ing us to make turns with our four-wheelers. I have always regarded it as a mar­vel of human ingenuity.

If and when a friend takes a dif­fer­ent turn, our wheel needs to be greased enough with a dif­fer­en­tial gear to accom­mo­date the oth­ers’ turn.

Friend­ships on a fixed axle don’t last long.

Ones with dif­fer­en­tial gear in their core can.

Indi­vid­ual wheels are lives that have their own des­ti­na­tion. If one wants to carry the other wheel along with its jour­ney towards one’s des­ti­na­tion, one needs one’s friend to have a dif­fer­en­tial gear. If one is will­ing to travel the jour­ney our friend wishes to reach his des­ti­na­tion, one needs a dif­fer­en­tial gear within oneself.

Instead, the way we usu­ally treat friend­ships is as if they were on a fixed axle. The other per­son is nei­ther cone-shaped, nor do we accom­mo­date a dif­fer­en­tial gear. The end result is friction.

The best, and only way, to avoid fric­tion in our friend­ships, is by employ­ing the dif­fer­en­tial gear.

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