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On Kashmiri proverb: Phari Choras Darih Kond Lorih

By M J Aslam –

Phari Choras Darih Kond Lorih: (Kashmiri idiom). Literally it is a fish-bone stuck in the beard of the man who stole a roasted-fish (Pher). Its Indian Equivalent is “Chor Ki Dadi May Tinka” while its English equivalent is “A guilty conscience needs no accuser”.

The clear message of these inter-related proverbs is that every thief, every criminal  leaves behind some traces of his identification or carries with him certain marks of detection.

First Background of Indian Proverb: I think the background of the Kashmiri proverb at hand ( given below) has been stolen from the background of the above Indian proverb “Chor Ki Dadi May Tinka” or in other words, Kashmiri proverb has been modeled on its Indian counterpart. It will become clear from a reading of it next below. As far as Indian proverb is concerned, the legend dates back to the time of the Emperor Akbar & his wise Advisor Birbal. One day Akbar wanted to test the intelligence of Birbal. He called a courtier & gave him his ring to hide in his pocket. He also called Birbal & told him that his ring had been stolen. Birbal was very intelligent. He knew that the Emperor wanted to test his wit. He asked “Zil e Subhani , Your Highness, where had you kept your ring? Akbar pointed towards an Almirah. Birbal said all courtiers must remain present in the court of the great Emperor. He went to the Almirah , brought his ear near to it & whispered with the Almirah & said : “Zil e Subhani, Your Highness, the Almirah tells me that the man who has stolen the ring has a blade of hay in his beard. The concerned courtier immediately on hearing Birbal’s words  began rubbing his beard & the whole drama got exposed.

Now the background of Kashmiri Proverb: It is said that once in the olden times a theft took place in the house of a wealthy man of the city. Those days crime was almost unknown in the city. When the news reached the king of the valley he was very angry & declared that the thief should be arrested & brought before him at an earliest. He called the Kotwal & told him that if he failed to nab the culprit soon he would terminate his services as Kotwal of the city. Kotwal got very upset & sought some force of 100 policemen & some time from the king. The requests were granted. He went to the house of the victim who told him that he suspected that the theft was committed by the people whom he had offered dinner at his home. He further told Kotwal that he had served them roasted-fish/Phereh in the dinner. Kotwal heard him & left.

He devised a well thought of plan. He gave an open invitation for a grand Gad e Saal (Dawat /feast) to the people of the city at a big hall. A large crowd of the people assembled in the hall. He told policemen to watch & guard the movements of each person after he orders something. He told policemen that they should immediately apprehend the man who rubs his beard after he makes an announcement. He told the sepoys to silence the crowd. The crowd was silenced. There came very witty & unexpected declaration from the Kotwal: ” Look gentlemen. A fish/pherh has been stolen. And I know who has stolen it, who is thief. There is a Kond/bone of fish in his beard”. The man who had committed theft happened to be in the assembly of the invited. On hearing the announcement of the Kotwal, he began rubbing his beard. The policemen present immediately swung into action & he was rounded up. The thief was punished . Hence, the captioned idiom.

Pher is roasted/smoked fish (Singular). Collectively /plural pherih. It was/is one of the tasty & favourite dishes of the Kashmiris during the cold weathers of the winter. It is fried in oil & then cooked with collard greens (haakh in Kashmiri) or round reddish (muji in Kashmiri) in rich spices & oil. It is tasted , eaten with staple diet of Kashmiris  which is rice. Bazaars of the areas of Jamia Masjid, Hazratbal , Sarai Bala, Maharaji Bazaar,  HSH Street are famous spots for sale of pherih mostly fisherwomen sell pherih at present.  The palpable reason is that the fishermen remain busy with catching fish in rivers & lakes during the whole day, naturally responsibility of selling of pherih falls on the shoulders of their womenfolk. From earlier days, their womenfolk have been helping them in roasting & preparing pherih for sake in the markets. It is a centuries old tradition of Kashmiri culture. 

Before the Dogra Rulers’ ban on fishing in the valley, Pharih-Haunz, one of the categories of fishermen of Kashmir, were netting small fish in the Jhelum & roasting them in big heaps of dried hay on the banks of the river & then selling them in the Bazars. But as fish catching was banned during Gulab Singh Dogra’s reign (1846-1857), & even after his death the ban continued for several years in Kashmir on it, it seems that they, Pharih-Haunz,  had then turned to netting fish in Wular Lake . They would roast them, dry them & then sell them in the bazars of the city & other towns of North.

There is a related proverb in Kashmiri “Pharih Haunzen Buziyeh Moj , Lukav Duphass Pharih Chu Buzaan” . Literally it means that a fisherman roasted his mother, and the people said to themselves that he is roasting fish. The words “roasting mother” is allegorical in the context which means that one may be undergoing great suffering & difficulty, but others may be just gossiping about it, his real condition. This idiom is so frequently used in Kashmirian dialectal communication of all sorts.

There are some corresponding proverbs in India which mean “when one man cried that his beard was on fire, another followed him asking him for a light for his cigar”. (South Indian) “One man’s house is on fire, another warms himself by it”. (Urdu proverb)