Archive for the ‘anecdotes’ Category

For those who have read the news of Boris Johnson and winced to be informed of the ridiculous levels British politics have descended along with him, I offer a rehash of anecdotes posted in 2010. There were those who spoke their mind and said it in such inimitable manner.

Henry Cust (1861-1917)

He was irreverent and he also dabbled in poetry. But journalism is what made him famous. His brilliance made the rich and famous take note of him and during one night in 1892 William Waldorf Astor walked over and offered the editorship of his latest acquisition The Pall Mall Gazette to him. True to form his editorials sparkled and irreverence also was very much in evidence. A leading article on the Eastern Question was entitled,’The Voice of Turkey.’

When the fate of the Chinese statesman Li Hung Chung was in the news the headlines carried-‘Li Chung- Hung? A school board controversy concerning a Mr. Dingle was presented to the public as follows:’To Dingle I am not able, to Beggle I am ashamed.’



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During the first week in office the military aides of the President brought a folder of transcripts to him. They asked President Truman if he were interested. It was an extensive practice during the Roosevelt years. Truman glanced at the two pages of the doings of the wife of one member of the White House staff. Truman told the officials, “I haven’t time for any such foolishness as that. Tell them I don’t authorize any such thing.”


After eighteen years in Washington, more than seven of them in the White House, he left for Independence, MO in Jan.23. A neighbor back home observed it was as if the Trumans had never been away; they were natural and as unspoilt by high office as if Truman had risen no further than alderman of Independence.

The day after he got back home he took his usual morning walk and one television reporter asked him what was the first thing he did when he walked in the house of 219 North Delaware the night before. “I carried the grips up the attic,” was the simple answer.


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Samuel Foote(1720-1777) wit
Dear Son,
I am in prison for debt; come and assist your loving mother.-E. Foote

Dear Mother,
So am I; which prevents his loving duty being paid to his loving mother.-Your affectionate son.
Samuel Foote
P.S_ I have sent my attorney to assist you; in the mean time let us hope for better days.

Living too well on oysters wine and roses is as bad as having to gnaw at the bones since dog of my Lord Hi-n-Mighty has got marrow.

But at what cost is to bay at the moon of one percenters while worms are frisky and waiting to be had, and the apple is within reach?
John Ruskin (1819-1900)

John Ruskin once received a request for donation to pay off the mortgage of the Duke Street Chapel and I have given here below an excerpt of his reply. It would seem he was addressing our present world; and for those who want buy now and pay later it may even be an eye opener!
Brentwood, 19 May,1886,
I am scornfully amused at your appeal to me, of all people in the world the precisely least like to give you a farthing! My first word to all men and boys to hear me is”Don’t get into debt. Starve and go to heaven-but don’t borrow. Try first begging_ I don’t mind if it’s really needful_stealing!. But don’t buy things you can’t pay for!”….
Isn’t it surprising how what we hold up as a virtue and a proof of a solid character is chipped away so slowly that none notices the enervation of personal values? In his essay ‘Unto This Last’ Ruskin wrote ‘There is no wealth but life.’
Dulled senses of a person who has chased a mirage at the cost of his or her personal values,-character, take the place as a slave driver. No pity or no worthwhile example but the constant goading the person to acquire branded items that he or she doesn’t really need. The victim scarcely notices what is branded right through the flesh to the spirit.

Moral: Virtues of one Age are the vices of another. Capitalism invented mass consumerism and made the bible for the lost and the damned. One only needs to see the mess we are all in.


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Harry S Truman (1887-1972)

33rd US President

After WWI Captain Truman was for sometime engaged in the haberdashery business. It was a failure. Later in the White House he could recall an irritating customer who could not make up his mind. Truman showed his most impressive line-up and the customer merely dithered. Truman said pointing to a couple of shirts, ‘they wear like iron. They laugh at the laundry.’

‘Yes, I know,’ grumbled the customer, ‘I bought half a dozen just like these. They came back with their sides split.’

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Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Printer, inventor, diplomat, founding father

Benjamin Franklin


Once early in his newspaper career he had to deal with the rival paper Mercury, which had the patronage of William Penn’s sons and Franklin as with many other patriots disliked their policies. One day a delegation of well meaning friends, Quakers, called on him at his house. They were there to warn him to moderate his political views. Anticipating what they were there for he invited them to stay for dinner, which consisted of some kind of mush and water. Franklin spooned the mush onto his dish and began to eat. His guests also tried to follow his example but they could not speak their point of view without getting the mush sticky in their throat. Franklin quietly tackled his food as he was well used to it. Finally the Quakers could not suffer the fare any longer and asked what it was.

‘You see what humble food I can live on,’ snapped Franklin, ‘He who can subsist upon saw-dust pudding and water doesn’t need the patronage of anyone.’

Note: There is a parallel to this in the life of Cato the elder. Plutarch writes about Marius Curius, a neighbour of Cato who had in his day scored a great victory over the Samnites. This War had lasted 298-90 BC. His simple living and hard work were well known. He continued to live in his humble cottage, working over the little patch of his land with his own hands even after he had celebrated his three triumphs. It was here that the ambassadors of the Samnites had found him sitting in front of his hearth boiling turnips. They offered him large sums of gold, but he sent them away, telling them that a man who could be satisfied with such a meal did not need gold.


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I n t r o d u c t i o n


What is an anecdote? It was the redoubtable Dr. Johnson who in his Dictionary (1755) defined the word as ‘something yet unpublished; a secret history.’ On the anvil of usage a word gets beaten till it comes to mean quite something else. The doctor as concession to vagaries of time, in a later edition amended the definition as follows: ‘A biographical incident; a minute passage of private life.’

 This second book of the Representational Man contains more anecdotes and the intent is same as the first.

Man as a key and symbol. Since we come with a physical and inner life should we not be represented both visible and in inner life as well? The representational men ought to serve as a key to our inner life or our lives in the spirit.

No action of man can be understood without asking what his motives were. Why did VI Lenin resort to a violent overthrow of the Tsars while MK Gandhi adopted non-violence as his weapon? This can only be understood by the role ethos shaped their thinking. Ethos is defined as the disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement. (AH dictionary)

Alexander of Macedon is a representative man for the ilks of Julius Caesar and Napoleon whose fame and fortune are all hitched to the physical world. Their actions also prove where their emphasis lay. For the Great Soul as MK Gandhi is called, ahimsa was an article of faith and for this he owed to the teachings of Gautama Buddha and to the epics. Prince Siddhartha Gautama forsook his kingdom and the worldly advantages and yet became a representational man. He turned his loss to advantage. He became the Buddha after he put his finger on the pulse of our existence to show us a way forward. For all those who value a life in the spirit he is a representational man.

Conquerors of world empires or of our hearts and minds, prophets or saints, fools or sages have all made their mark using the same arena, the earth. Only they placed their emphases differently.

Spirit of the times is the oxygen we breathe even as they and yet we see our world through their eyes.

Diogenes of Cinope could tell Alexander to keep out of his sun because he saw his circumstances under the sun applicable to the great man as well. How come they are representational men and we are not? We are connected to representational men because we breathe the same air and create the spirit of our times in the manner we contribute however small, for the common fund. And yet we often forget what spirit we are made of; neither we cash in on the wisdom which the representational man has well made use of. Representational man in a manner of speaking is our admission we fell back in the race of life.

If we are not true to our own thoughts we are reduced to deal in second hand goods passed on by others. If we have failed to think noble thoughts or act upon them we may be forced to settle for the second best which another has thought for us. It is in this context we look up to the representational man who has succeeded where we never even tried.

I shall end this by quoting two authors who more or less approached study of history from focusing on men who made history. Scholars of present day history may not fully endorse their approach but the following quotes suit my purpose well.

My intent is not to write histories but only lives. For the noblest deeds do not always show mean virtues and vices but sometimes a light occasion, a word or some sport makes man’s natural dispositions and manners appear than the famous battles won…”

(Plutarch-The Life of Alexander)

“No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of the great men”.


(This is selected from my book: Representational Man in two volumes-self published through http://www.lulu.com)



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The life of Dr. Albert Schweitzer bears out the surge of power by which consciousness and memory can make a sea-change in life of one and serve as a key to many others.
The young Albert once got into a fight and knocked down his opponent. The boy told Albert that it would have ended differently had he been as well nourished as he was. It evidently affected him. During supper that evening, he left his soup untouched.
It marked a definite break with his past and so did his sense of values. He became a caring person.
Even where he excelled in his intellectual achievements they were to be used in service of others. At 26 he had a triple Ph.D.
Whenever Dr. Schweitzer needed money during his stint in Africa he went on tour and gave concerts and talks. But what connects the son of a Lutheran pastor in upper Alsace to Congo?
As a child Albert had often wondered at a statue of a Negro, strong in body but head bowed and in chains. It made an impact on him. Of course the fight was the catalyst. It brought memory and impressions that he merely had guessed but not digested.

Of course one cannot discount the role of chance. What made Albert decide to become a medical Missionary was due to a Paris Missionary society report, which he came across as if by chance. Thereupon he settled for Lambarene, in the heart of Africa. Where mind of man is colored by collective memory, and his own experience, chance must, so it seems to me, lose some of its mystery.
In the italics I have referred to the impact of experience that keeps repeating or recycled each to his own time and place.
Quatrain #198
From first lump of the earth what was formed,
Man to his last in his kind did intend.

Angels that of the creation did sing
With the end of it in harmony bring.( Selected-The Illustrated Omar Khayyam)

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At the height of Rome one indefatigable traveler during his many travels saw an Inuit.  The native heard of the glory of Rome and at the end of palaver he asked the visitor: ‘Do the Romans get to see ice as I see about me?’

The wayfarer said it was a luxury only Caesar and a few senators could afford. The Inuit sadly shook his head and said,’Save me and my folks from the glory that you speak of.’


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Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson
(1709-1784) Lexicographer, Author

When Johnson undertook to complete a dictionary he had no training in lexicography. Yet he had agreed to do the job within three years. His friends doubted whether he had not undertaken a project much beyond him. Dr. Adams of Pembroke an admirer gently reminded him that the French Academy of forty members had taken forty years to complete their dictionary. Johnson replied, ‘Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years,’ and he broke off the topic by making a show of calculating how many Frenchmen could be said to equal one Englishman.

Dr. Johnson, however odds were stacked against him- his humble circumstances, Academic neglect notwithstanding, did make a name with his Rambler and the Dictionary of course silenced every critic. He was a literary genius to be reckoned as the glory of his age. At first his essays caused little stir and by degrees his continued distillation of life -experience, common sense, moral precepts and philosophy made impact on the public that there were ten collected editions of his essays in his lifetime.
His essays appeared twice a week for two years at a stretch and anonymously but in that small London literary world no one was left with doubt as to the identity of the essayist. At the same time he was toiling away at his magnum opus without let up.
It was his dictionary that made his name. In the wake of his success many paid him generous compliments for his achievement. Two ladies were all praises for his leaving out naughty words.
“What my dears!” Johnson said, “then you have been looking for them?”
Johnson had to discontinue his term in Christ Church, Oxford for want of finance and returned to Lichfield where his father, as a bookseller struggling as usual was on the verge of bankruptcy. Cut off from any hope of intellectual achievement, obsessed by secret fears and misery he was a more a burden to his father than a help. Johnson was twenty and one day his father feeling sick stayed in bed asking his son to go to Uttoxeter in his place to attend the bookstall. Johnson refused, feeling it beneath his dignity to sell goods from a barrow in the open market. So painful was his memory of the incident, that on an impulse fifty years later he ‘went to Uttoxeter in very bad weather, and stood bareheaded in the rain, on the spot where my father’s stall used to stand…’ His feeling of guilt over the years was made even more distressing by the fact that within a few weeks of the incident his father died suddenly.
(Samuel Johnson and his World- Margaret Lane/Hamish Hamilton, London )

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C. Rajagopalachari (1878- 1972)
Politician, last governor-general of India

Rajaji, as his friends called him, in his younger days fell foul with the Brahmin orthodoxy. He was convinced its hidebound customs were morally wrong. On one occasion when he organized inter-caste, cosmopolitan dining, there were moves to ostracize him. They had their revenge when his father died in 1914, for no Brahmin priest could be found to conduct the last rites. That however didn’t deter him from his conviction.
During his tenure as the Chairman of Salem municipality he upheld the right of the Harijans (low- caste) to use public water taps. As premier of Madras Province, in 1937, he opened the gates of temples hitherto barred to a large section of Hindus-the untouchables. It was a milestone in the social history of the Province.
His humanism shone through his many acts however unpopular with a section of the people that prompted Kamaraj, his one time political rival to comment that he had that rare quality to consider and respect man as man.
He had great respect for his English teacher John Guthrie Tait. This Scot after returning to his native land received news of his pupil and he sent him one pound of the finest Indian tobacco every month. Even when Rajaji was in gaol he had seen to that his teacher received his quota. This continued till his death.
During his stay in Pudupalayam village in Salem district he established a Gandhi Ashram. One day Rajaji noticed a displaced mesh of the chimney and he set about to correct it. Normally one Chinnan did odd jobs around the Ashram.
Rajaji’s daughter seeing her father precariously perched atop a ladder hurried to him and said, “Isn’t Chinnan there? Will he not do it? What if you fall and injure yourself?”
Back came Rajaji’s reply, “If he falls and injures himself, it doesn’t matter, does it? ”
In every deal, which he struck he looked into merits than money value. Rajaji wanted to settle down in Madras and thus his house was put up for sale. He also had a buyer a Doctor Sundaram who wanted to set up a hospital. Rajaji argued, “ Doctor Sundaram wants the house only to do service to the public. ” Selling the house at a price the doctor could afford, Rajaji left Salem.
In 1937 Rajaji as the Premier of Madras wanted to introduce a Bill to relieve the indebtedness of the poor from the clutches of moneylenders. During a discussion in the State Legislature, Shri. T.T Krishnamachari advised Rajaji to collect the statistics of people affected before such a bill was put up. Rajaji’s reply was thus, ”If my friend Krishnamachari troubled by mosquitoes wants to go in for a mosquito curtain he will not certainly not take a census of mosquitoes and their proportion of distribution between Mylapore and George Town.”
In one of the pre-Independence sweltering summer CR was travelling by train and he had an Englishman as his co-passenger who fretted over the heat. Perspiring freely he commented, ‘It is a very hot afternoon.’
‘Not hot enough,’ replied Rajaji.
Edgily the Englishman queried, ‘What do you mean?’
‘Not hot enough,’ CR answered with a smile, ‘to keep you gentlemen out of our country.’
When CR was the Governor-General of India during the UN celebrations held in New Delhi in 1948 he spotted Shri S.R Ranganathan, an eminent librarian. Among many dignitaries present to hear him he saw S.R seated in the back row. Making a beeline towards him he queried, “ What have you professors to do with this political show?”
Later during the film show CR made him sit next to him. In Tamil he said, “A professor or a librarian is as good as a Governor-General. Why are you so shy and go to the back bench?”
During a tour of Mysore as the Governor-General he was driven through a busy artery of Bangalore. The security was high and despite of it a decrepit old man managed to break the police cordon and reach him. CR recognized him as his old cook of Salem days. He motioned his security staff to let him come near. After accepting his greetings CR asked him to meet him at his camp. At the end of the interview he presented the old cook with hundred rupees as a token of services rendered some 30 years ago.
While discussing over some recommendations presented to the Foreign Affairs committee CR the Home Minister and Jawaharlal Nehru took divergent views. Two members fell in with Nehru’s stand. CR tried to persuade Nehru to his views. In the end Nehru said, “You see, Rajaji, the majority is with me.”
Accepting that for a fact he said with a grin, “But logic is with me.”
On decline in morals: Morality without religion is like calories without vitamins.
On deception: There are two ways of deception: one is a simple deception and the other by compromise.
On sabre rattling among politicians: fireworks and lightening are preferred to candlelight.
Caste prejudices and communal biases were anathema to CR. When a correspondent inquired about his ‘gotra’ he wrote back, “I am of the Srivasta gotra but neither my intellect or folly is traceable to it.”
When one of the miscreants threw stones at him during a meeting in Madurai he observed that the young man had a poor aim. “If he was a good marksman, he could have found place in the police department and risen very high.”
Profulla Chandra Ghosh, former Chief Minister of West Bengal, along with Acharya Profulla Chandra Ray were proceeding to attend the Congress session held at Kakinada. They boarded the train at Vijayawada and as they moved to their own berths they passed Rajaji who was alone in his compartment. Ray turned to his companion and observed, ‘frail, frail frame’. CR retorted, “ leading to the fourth f failure.”
As custom demanded CR once recited a South Indian name where a person’s name necessarily carried the place of birth, father’s name, caste. It was too much for Pyarelal who was Gandhiji’s personal secretary and he said, ‘Let me call a stenographer.’
Ignoring this CR asked innocently, “What is Hakim Sahib’s name?”
“Hakim Ajmal Khan.”
Rajaji asked, “How do they refer him at a public meeting?”
In those Non-cooperation days national leaders were given elaborate honorific titles and Hakim Khan was exalted as Masih-ul-Mulk, Hazal ul Hakim, Hakim Ajmal Khan Sahib.
Pyrelal began reciting the name with his full titles at which Rajaji said, “Stop, let me call a stenographer!”
In his 1964-65 Central Budget, the then Finance Minister T.T Krishnamachari introduced an Annuity Deposit Scheme, whereby individuals were to deposit a certain amount with the Central Government and it was to be repaid in 10 instalments. Rajaji who was then 86 wrote to the Minister saying that a man of his age should not be expected to live for another 10 years to collect his dues. Thanks to Rajaji the Government excluded people aged 70 and above from the scheme.
As the Rowlatt Act was being considered in the Imperial Legislative Council, Rajaji was at Salem. He fell in with Gandhiji’s call for Satyagraha.
In 1919 he moved to Madras where CR became busier than ever. He would return home late and study into small hours. One day his daughter found him poring over law books and asked, “Are you reading for a law case?”
With a smile he replied, “I am reading about breaking laws.” He added seriously, “Sometimes a bad law has to be broken. ”
(Ack: Raj Mohan Gandhi author of Rajaji, A Life)
compiler:benny thomas

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