The Tale of the Indian Gent
A FAMOUS European sculptor told me this story.Skip to next paragraph
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He and his wife were visiting India. A man of Ghandi-like appearance approached them and named a price; he said that if they paid it, he would oblige them by climbing to the top of a very high cliff that happened to be handily located within their view. Once aloft, he would proceed to launch himself without further ado off said cliff. A short while later he would land, accurately, in a bucket, placed conveniently, if rather distantly, at ground level. Which bucket he now held up for their inspection.
It was full of water, but it was not big. It was, in fact, a bucket-sized bucket. It was definitely not a man-sized bucket. For a higher price he would empty it of water and land in it quite dry, he said.
Intrigued - but not entirely convinced - the sculptor plied him with a question.
"Are you a holy man?" he enquired.
"Oh, no, no," the man replied, "I am a businessman."
The sculptor and his wife have since found these two, apparently opposite, categories a humorously useful means of character assessment when they meet someone new. I could see (a little unkindly, perhaps) how it might apply to some of my friends and relations! What intrigues me, though, is the amusing assumption that the categories are necessarily mutually exclusive. In practice they are surely more often two sides of a single character. Of course, this goes against preferred mythology. But these two sid es do not have to be out of sync. Without doubt it depends on the degree to which the "business" side is regulated by the "holy."
As for the Indian gentleman, the anecdote leaves me wondering.
By calling himself a "businessman," he clearly meant that the making of money was his chief motive, however two-dimensional a view of "the businessman" this might entail. But by discounting the idea of his being "a holy man," he opened up a question about what exactly a "holy man" might be. That it had nothing whatever, in his eyes, to do with the ability to jump from the top of a sheer cliff into a bucket, with or without water in it, suggests a telling distinction in his mind: that holiness was not a s pecies of magic or a circus act, even in India.
It was not a kind of rash gamble. He knew that at any rate.
I suspect he may not have been much of a businessman really. The unanswered question is what he would have done if my friends had actually taken up his challenge and handed him his fee.
If he'd scarpered without jumping - simply absconded, a wealthier person - he would have proved himself to be ... a con-man. He would not have shown himself to be a true businessman since the essential element of building genuine confidence for future transactions would have been noticeably missing.
If, on the other hand, he had taken their money and had then played his part and leapt neatly through the swirling air currents of a Delhi afternoon to land precisely (and alive) in his chosen galvanized steel container, he would then, like the best of businessmen, have earned his money. It seems likely that his business would have flourished forthwith on the grounds that all the world loves a successful showman, even if he is a businessman too.
It seems, actually, a little strange that he did not describe himself as a "showman." But then that could be because he had no intention of doing anything so entirely stupid as to actually leap bucketward.