24 January 2016

Eighteenth-century Hindi sayings

In a post on the British Library's Asian and African Studies blog, I discussed a Persian dictionary by the eighteenth-century bureaucrat and connoisseur Ānand Rām Mukhliṣ. The dictionary, Mirʾāt al-iṣt̤ilāḥ (ʻMirror of Expressionsʼ) completed in 1158/1745, is a strange work because it's less a dictionary and more a miscellany describing people and things that interested its author. At the end of each chapter, it gives some Persian sayings [muḥāwārāt] sometimes with Hindi equivalents. 

I quoted one of my favourites, dar jang ḥalvā bakhsh nimīkunand [During war they don't hand out sweets], which is rendered in Hindi as laṛāʾī meṁ koʾī laḍḍū nahīṁ baṭte. It's a charming example in part because Persianate halwa has been replaced by Indian laddus. People asked for more examples of Hindi sayings quoted in the text, so here are few:
  • Dūr kī ḍhol suhāwanī [A faraway drum is pleasant; Persian: āwāz-i duhul shinīdan az dūr ḳhūsh ast], i.e. it's good to hear news rather than having to see for one's self.
  • Akhāyā [i.e. khāyā?] kyā jānne bhūke kā ḥāl [How would a person who has eaten know a starving person's situation?;  Persian: ser rā chih gham-i gurusnah ast]
  • Sūm saḳhī kā baras pīchhe lekhā [The miser sends a bill after the generous man's ceremony; Persian: karīm rā ṣad dīnār ḳharaj mī shawad wa baḳhīl rā hāzār dīnār]; The Persian literally means "One spends a hundred dinars on a generous person, and a thousand on a miser." I'm not sure if I have the Hindi translation right.
  • Khūnṭe ke bal bail nāchtā hai [A bullock dances as far as its tether goes; Persian: gosālah bah zor-i mīḳh mī nahad]
  • Miyān rāẓī bībī rāẓī kyā karegā qāẓī [If the bloke's ready and so's the lady, then what can the qāẓī (judge tasked with keeping morality) do?; Persian: man rāẓī wa to rāẓī gūz bar rīsh-i qāẓī]; What's interesting here is that the Hindi has a sexual subtext for the saying (with some manuscripts calling the qāẓī bhaṛwā, meaning cuckold or pimp) whereas the Persian has just "you and I" in place of the man and lady. On the other hand, in the Persian text disregarding the qāẓī's authority is literally "farting on the qāẓī's beard".
I might try to post some more of these later on. For more on Mukhliṣ and this Indo-Persian culture in general, see my book Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History.

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NOTES: These have been taken from the selections of adages (amsāl) at the end of each section so there is a lot more Hindi material in the book, usually in the form of single words mentioned as equivalent in meaning to a Persian word, that I have left out. Every single one of these adages was introduced by a formula like “in Hindi they likewise say…” and I’ve looked for those formulaic introductions to pick a few examples. I’ve left out about two dozen other idioms with a Hindi equivalent and hundreds of interesting and culturally-relevant Persian adages for which Mukhlis gives no Hindi equivalent.

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