Posts Tagged ‘anecdotes’

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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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 Johnson who in his Dictionary (1755) defined the word as ‘something yet unpublished; a secret history.’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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Boredom is the enemy #1 to every serious occupation in life. A story which concerns St. John, a favorite disciple of Jesus is that he was once seen sporting with a tame partridge, by an archer who thought that the holy man should not waste his time in such frivolities; The apostle replied that if the archer did not at times relax his bow, it would lose spring.

Can there be time out for holiness? For a saint like St. Francis even frivolities shall prove his human quality in its naturalness. Addressing the sun as Brother Sun or the birds the revered figure of Assissi proved his time out was in fitness of God’s kingdom. He could forgive since he knew the essence of his place among wonders that were for all. The sun shines for good and the evil alike; similarly rain. Merely because he was a man of God and the other a wicked man he need not curse him for his evil deeds. For him forgiving comes easier because he is not only thinking of himself but also of another. Tyrants at home demand service and not understand those who serve also have sometimes difficulties in meeting their demands. They have simply forgotten others since they are full of themselves. Those who slash and burn rain forests do so because they want to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others. How can such fellows call themselves as human or decent?

The great Caesar as Plutarch tells us, on one occasion sought shelter under the roof of a rustic shepherd. At dinner time the meal cooked in rancid oil and served to him made the companion bristle with indignity. Caesar could accept the humble meal and thank him for his hospitality. Caesar proved his greatness even under straitened circumstances. He did not forget where he was and his place. He was a guest and having forced himself on another man’s hospitality knew how to behave. Like Caesar each of us is a guest here on earth. There are unwritten house rules. You may be overqualified with degrees and to your own hurt if your educated guess of your place on the earth is to take the food out of mouths of your offspring. In order to ensure their wellbeing, let your humanness show.

Can there be time out for holiness? Or let us rephrase it like thus: Can there be time out from being human?

Tailpiece: there is nothing that can fix a problem like capitalism than fixing who we are and our decency to others who also have found sharing the space. None of us owns the earth. Perhaps education that we tout as cure-all is a travesty of true purpose of education. Think of damage done under initiative and free enterprise! Colossal damage done by cretins in the name of bold initiative, Pshaw! Education on these fellows seems to fit the proverb: ‘casting pearls before swine’.

(This is a modified version of an earlier post-An Apocryphal Story published in my blog 2012)




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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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Frank LloydWright (1869-1959)



The Master Builder was very autocratic and he expected blind obedience from his apprentices at his Talisien Architectural School. Once before going abroad he had assigned one of his students to dig a ditch at a certain place. When he returned he found the ditch had moved. He was furious and berated the fellow for disobeying his instructions,

The young apprentice nervous and upset stepped backwards and fell into the ditch. Standing on the edge, above the fallen apprentice, waving his cane he said, ‘If you’d put the ditch where I told you, you wouldn’t have fallen into it.’


He had a great deal of fun making his contemporaries squirm. Once he told Eliel Saarinen the Finnish architect that after he had seen one of his designs he had thought ‘what a great architect – I am.’


Much of his arrogance sprang from the conviction that the other alternative of hypocritical humility was much worse. ‘Early in life,’ he once explained ‘I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.’

When the Philadelphia architect George Howe told a fictitious parable, in which he cast Wright in the role of Moses leading fellow architects out of bondage, Wright calmly added to it his verdict. ‘In this story I am God!’


Wright and Alexander Woolcott were close friends. After Woolcott first saw the Usonian house for one of their common friends he sent a note to the architect that it made even a group of his (Lewis) friends look distinguished.’ Wright cherished the note.

When another owner of a Usonian house telephoned Wright in desperation because the rain was pouring through a crack in the roof the master-builder calmly suggested ’Why don’t you move your chair a little bit to one side?’


When fame came to him he relished the limelight as any one else. Indeed one of his stories in later life was about an old lady asking Adlai Stevenson if all that adulation didn’t do him harm.

Adlai answered that it was alright so long as he didn’t inhale.’


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Once a beggar accosted the wit at the Haymarket and made his case stronger by saying he had no bread to eat and had no work to do. ‘Work!,” exclaimed Wilde,”why should you want to work! and bread! why should you eat bread?” He paused and laying his hand on his shoulder he continued in a friendly manner,”now if you had come to me and said you had work to do but you couldn’t dream of working, and that you had bread to eat, but couldn’t think of eating bread I would have given you two shillings and six pence.” A pause.” As it is, I give you half-a-crown.”

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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.
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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Phocion waited wearily as his barber gave him a longwinded summary of the current Athenian political situation. At one point he stopped realizing what he was there for. He asked, ‘How would you like to have your hair trimmed?’
‘In silence’, was the reply.
Phocion lived in the golden age of oratory and in the department of causing a verbal avalanche none could have stood the force of Demosthenes. Once he told Phocion, ’The Athenians will kill you someday when they are in a rage.’
‘And you, when they are in their senses. ’came the retort. (Ack: The Bumper Book of Insults-Nancy McPhee/Chancellor Press-1981)
Having the custom of the famous French comedian Fernandel made the barber brighten up. He could do hardly enough. After a length of time he produced the mirror and held it behind the famous head and asked, ‘Is that all right?’
Fernandel looked at his cut and gave a look of disapproval. He said, ‘Almost just a little longer at the back, please.’
(Ack: Munich Revu)

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A freed Bosnian slave was appointed the Wali of Damascus. The Port of Acre came under the jurisdiction of this Bosnian who ruled as Pasha Ahmad-al Jassar. He was cruel and also very unjust. The picture shows him counting beads while a condemned man kneels before him. Ordinary punishment was gouging out eyes of anyone that displeased him. On his left is Haim Farhi, a Jew who was retained by the Pasha as his financial adviser. Once he sent the Jew to purchase some merchandise for him. On his return the ruler suspected he was defrauded and ordered his right eye put out. Tip of his nose also was cut off. Later on finding that Farhi was honest he heaped on him many presents and gave back his former position and took him back into his trust. Till his death in 1804 Farhi remained in his service and thereafter served Suleiman Pasha formerly Jazzar’s deputy.( Ack:color plate from the Jews in their land)

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Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957)

Musical genius of Toscanini on looking back was in his ability to convey what the composer had in mind not only musically but psychologically and thus playing his work he made it a dramatic experience. By studying the score sheets he saw beyond the notes the intention of the composer and by memorizing it, brooding over it he saw the work as a totality of the man, his work and his role as a faithful translator of his ideas . As he told George Marek, his biographer ‘When I look at a score I see the profile of the composer on the page’.
He was a stern taskmaster and yet he was not a martinet. He respected individual ideas. He said to an oboist playing the cadenza in the Beethoven’s Fifth, ‘That is not the way I would have phrased it –but I like it. There is nothing absolute in music.’
Pianist Rubinstein once played Beethoven C Minor Concerto under the leading of Toscanini. It was their first encounter. The pianist was a bit apprehensive and on the first rehearsal Rubinstein came and sat at the piano. The maestro nodded and the pianist began. It was a catastrophe since they found their ideas were completely different.
At the end of the first movement Toscanini looked at the pianist and asked him if he intended to play his part like that.
Toscanini asked him to repeat the first all over again. While he played Toscanini listened noticing the tempo, phrasing and every expression mark. On the repetition they had the look as if they had been playing the music together all their lives.
At the time he was developing and perfecting his technique as a conductor he set new standards of interpretation in his insistence that music should be played exactly as was written. One occasion,- and it was not the only time, Toscanini stopped a rehearsal because the timpanist failed to give an accent to a particular note. ‘There is no accent marked here on my copy, maestro’ the timpanist said.
‘Then put it on’ said Toscanini and he was certain it was how originally written. Some time afterwards the timpanist went to a library where the original of the composer’s score was kept. On checking it he found the maestro was right: the accent was there.
Once he hollered at a well-bosomed soprano in Italian and he said pointing to her head ‘If you had up here what you have down here, what a singer you would be!’
(Toscanini, A Biography: Gorge Marek,1975/Atheneum)

Tailpiece: The other day I heard a Chinese girl of 9 playing Chopin and not a note was missed and her playing was faultless. On the other hand I heard Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Piano concerto #1 ( BBC program) recently at the Albert Hall-having heard him and enjoyed his music, I was disappointed. His facial contortions in bringing solo passages to a close was distracting to say the least. I hear often criticism of lacking in experience leveled against Far Eastern performers. Nationality of players have not come in way of enjoying their recitals.
Is life experience needed in order to play Chopin or Liszt?
In my opinion a player should stick to the score faithfully and if the player could get the dynamics and tempo right it is all needed for me. My life experience and mood is what counts and not the players’ contortions to be transcendental.
Herbert von Karajan was like a sphinx but his presence was unmistakable. Toscanini was tempestuous while rehearsing but on podium he was the conductor and his personality also made it an satisfying experience.

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