5 Urdu Proverbs Explained

To celebrate the polyphonic linguistic diversity at Her Campus and UCL, I thought it would be intriguing to share a few proverbs from my native language Urdu.  

  1. 1. Ghar ki murgi daal barabar.

    Literally: the chicken at home is no better than daal (lentils). 

    English Equivalent: the grass is always greener on the other side.

    Explanation/Origin: anything that you gain from your own circle or household doesn’t seem to compare with what you gain from what’s outside of your circle (even if it is exactly the same). That’s why the chicken that’s served at home is no better than the common man’s lentils (even though chicken was, and still is in impoverished areas, deemed a luxury compared to substantially cheaper lentils).  

  2. 2. Ghoray bech ke sona.

    Literally: to sleep (well) after selling one’s horses.

    English Equivalent: sleeping like a baby.

    Explanation/Origin: coined during the reign of the Mughals, most likely. At the time, horses were used by the elite as a means of transportation, hence merchants would roam from city to city with well-groomed, pedigreed stallions to attract wealthy customers. In the 17th century, the Mughal king’s men summoned a merchant (his servants being unaware of his profession). As they looked for him, the merchant’s wife responded: woh ghoray bech ke so geya (he sold his horses and fell asleep). The expression is now used to illustrate a sense of complacency surrounding the person sleeping.  

  3. 3. Band baja diya.

    Literally: to play (someone else’s band) – not just one of their instruments but the whole damn band...

    English Equivalent: to have been roughed someone up/to have had ruffled some feathers.

    Explanation/Origin: a colloquial expression to indicate that someone is going to or has roughed you up. There’s a similar expression: baja baja diya (to play someone’s instrument) but this one’s a bit more intense, evidently.

  4. 4. Jhoot bolay, kawa katay.

    Literally: Lie, and a crow will bite you.

    English Equivalent: Liar, liar pants on fire???

    Explanation/Origin: this is an expression that became popular in the late 1950s through a folk song that became popular in the subcontinent. A wife that was suspicious about her husband engaging in an extramarital affair would use it to caution him in the song.

  5. 5. Chor ki daari meh thinka.

    Literally: There’s a twig in the thief’s beard.

    English Equivalent: a guilty conscience does not need external blame.

    Explanation/Origin: this proverb stems from the tales of Akbar and Birbal. Akbar was a Mughal king in the 14th century and Birbal was his Hindu advisor and the main commander of the army – the two were quite close and shared an endearing relationship. One day, Akbar wanted to test Birbal’s intelligence, so he presented his ring to one of his court members, asking them to hide it and pretend as if it had been lost, while Birbal was supposed to rule out the “culprit”. Birbal was not naive enough to believe that the King’s private quarters had been invaded, so he asked Akbar where he last left it. He went near Akbar’s cupboard (where he last kept his ring). Birbal rested his ear against the cupboard and went into a pensive state. Later, he proclaimed: “the one who has stolen the ring, has a twig in his beard”. The one who had the ring immediately reached for his beard, exposing himself and enabling Bilbar to outwit everyone. Since then the proverb has evolved to be associated with the actions of the culpable – if one expresses signs of guilt for theft or wrongdoing, their beard is “be-twigged”.