WHAT ARE PROVERBS?

If you explored the basic Hindi verb types, you may have noticed that proverbs were not mentioned. बहुत अच्छा! Bahut Acchaa! You are paying attention! You see, despite the name, proverbs are not verbs! Proverbs are popular sayings or expressions that are in many cases repeated throughout the ages due to their timelessness and relevance to the human experience. Proverbs are typically figurative and convey a moral, ideal, or message relatable to humanity in general or to the experiences of one culture specifically. Proverbs can be lofty and philosophical or elegant in their simplicity and humility. Either way, proverbs are simply a fascinating aspect of language, and to understand them and to use them signifies that you have a true understanding of not only the language but the culture of the society imparting the proverb.

Without further ado, it's time for some fun! See how well you can relate to these famous Hindi proverbs in English. As a bonus challenge, try to spot the verb(s) used in the proverb by recalling the verbs, tenses, and verb types you have learned.

HINDI PROVERBS WITH MEANINGS

लेना एक, ना देना दो. / Lenaa ek, na denaa do. / Neither take one nor give two.

This proverb represents the philosophy of having no concerns. It can possess a negative connotation when describing a dispassionate person who shows no regard or takes no responsibility, or an action which is unproductive. Alternately, it can be used positively if describing a person or attitude as carefree and unburdened by circumstances.

एक कुएँ में एक मेंढक. / Ek kuem men ek mendhak. / A frog in a well.

This is one of my favorite Hindi proverbs in English. This proverb represents a critique of the narrowminded or intellectually smug. It is based on a classic Hindi parable in which a frog in a well who imagines its well to be the entire universe, becomes arrogant. The proverb suggests that human beings should not be complacent or egotistical about their knowledge, because no one knows all there is to know. Every organism lives within the confines of its own experience, but there is a vast, unknown universe beyond our comparatively small existence.

घर की मुर्गी दाल बराबर. / Ghar kee murgee daal baraabar. / Chicken curry made at home is judged the same as a plain daal curry.

This popular proverb suggests that what is already possessed is viewed as lackluster. Chicken curry is a dish that many in India do not have the luxury to dine on, yet those who have it often may take it for granted as though it were a mundane dish of daal. If you eat at home often and suddenly dine out, you may react more positively to dining out because of the novelty. This is because it is human nature to want for that which we do not already have! The grass is always greener on the other side, or so it's believed!

जाती ना पूछो साधु की; पूछ लीजिए ज्ञान. / Jatee nee pucho sadhu kee; puch leejie jnaan. / Ask not a saint of his cast; ask of his knowledge.

This proverb by the talented poet Kabir suggests that a wise person should be heard and appreciated for his knowledge, not judged on the basis of irrelevant external attributes such as caste or background. More broadly, the proverb suggests that a person's merit should be determined by his inherent qualities and contributions as an individual, not by superficial traits which fail to capture the essence of a person.

आराम हराम है. / Aaram haraam hai. / Too much relaxation is harmful.

This proverb extolls the importance of possesing a strong work ethic and the detrimental effects of laziness and inaction. Certainly rest and relaxation is important and too much work is ill advised, but equally, so is too much leisure. Balance is key!

अंधों में काना राजा. / Andhon men kaanaa raaja. / Amidst the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

This proverb is a king among Hindi proverbs in English! The sarcastic proverb implies that mediocrity is favored and rules over no ability, but that achieving such a title is a mockery rather a true achievement since it was only possible because of a perceived relative edge over meager competition.

माटी कहे कुम्हार से, "तू क्या रौंदे मोय. एक दिन ऐसा आएगा, मैं रौंदूंगी तोय." /
Maatee kahe kumhaar se, "Too kya raunde moye. Ek din aisa aayegaa, main raundoongee toye." /
Earth says to the potter, "You think you knead me. One day soon you'll see, I'll knead you easily."

This is another of Kabir's Hindi proverbs in English. The proverb suggests the singular and at times destructive power of earth over mere man. Man presumes he shapes his environment and over-exerts his influence over his landscape with deleterious consequences. However, when man least expects it, the environment exerts influence over him and shows him who is truly in charge. The proverb suggests that human beings are all merely tenants occupying this great planet, so should acknowledge the limits of their control over it.

जान है तो जहान है. / Jaan hai to jahaan hai. / If there is life, there is the world.

This proverb suggests that so long as there is life, there is a world of possibilities. Life is as precious as the world in which it occurs. Even when life sways in negative directions it should be remembered that the mere fact that we are living means that we always have an opportunity to transform that life, which makes this one of the most uplifting Hindi proverbs in English!

बंदर क्या जाने अदरक का स्वाद. / Bandar kyaa jaane adrak kaa svaad. / What does a monkey know of the taste of ginger.

This proverb uses the monkey with the unrefined palate for the subtlety of ginger as a symbol for the uncultivated or ignorant individual who cannot appreciate a valuable thing and may even react negatively or destructively toward it because he has not attained the experience to fairly judge the value of that thing. One should pay heed when giving a valuable entity to such an individual, because it cannot be reasonably expected that the receiver will take such pleasure in it as the giver!

दिया तले अंधेरा / Diyaa tale andheraa / The darkness underneath the lamp

Ever heard the English expression "take the good with the bad?" Irony abounds in some Hindi proverbs in English such as this! This proverb suggests that beneath the surface of the seemingly light and positive can lurk the more dark and dire. Perhaps the good is a decoy, merely concealing the bad. Perhaps the dark side is too difficult to face so it is denied or ignored in favor of maintaining a facade of good. Ultimately light and dark, good and evil, positive and negative may not be black and white concepts but rather, two sides of the same coin, two dueling forces in the lives of man, and both of which we must at some point in time confront with openness. Even darkness can potentially be overcome if it is confronted as a pathway toward the light.

बिल्ली को छीचड़ो के ख्वाब. / Billee ko cheechdon ke khvaab. / The cat dreams of the finest cut meat.

Last but not least is one of the funniest yet most philosophically striking Hindi proverbs in English. In India, cats are fed leftover food, but meat leftovers would represent the cat's utmost desire. Therefore, the cat has lofty aspirations that may not be possible even in the cat's wildest dreams. On the one hand, the proverb implies there is nobility in the cat striving above its humble form to loftier dreams. Such an attitude of upward mobility can motivate man to attain more then his present circumstances allow. On the other hand, the proverb also suggests that man should be realistic in his dreams, because aspiring above the realm of possibility can cause great stress if the aspiration is not met! This is the beauty of the proverb - each leaves room for individual interpretation. Are you a dreamer like the cat?