Context: AH is a 26 year old from Karnataka, India. He is a graduate, international student studying environmental engineering. He is also a really good friend of mine. I asked him to tell me some folklore while we had lunch one day.
AH: Back home we say “kumbalakai kalla andre, hegalu mutti nodikonda”
Translation: “When we said the pumpkin is stolen, he checked his shoulder”
YM: what do you mean ?
AH: Well there’s the saying “When somebody shouted Pumpkin Thief, the person who heard it, touched his shoulders to check if that person was referring to him!’
AH: This idiom is used for “People who are usually in the habit of assuming that everything said or done is referring to HIM/HER only!!”.. These people just assume everything is pointing towards them even though the person did not mean or refer anything to them. These kinds of people make a ‘Hue and Cry’ over nothing, build a mountain out of ant-hill and thus make fools of themselves
AH: it’s a common proverb used
YM: that is interesting, and why a pumpkin ?
AH: It’s just a story.. They wanted something heavy a person would carry.. So a pumpkin was used. The story is from simpler times, ruled by kings. When these petty thefts were common.. If it was something lighter, he wouldn’t have to carry it on the shoulder
AH: So, the proverb to make sense they just added pumpkin as a logical assumption
YM: that makes sense, what are your thoughts on it ?
AH: I think it’s a good proverb to point out those people that need to get their act together… I also think it’s used to point out the guilty conscience in a person. As in, he touched his shoulder because he stole it…
AH: In our generation generally will use it to mock someone, it’s like saying “GOTCHA”, when you find your friend is guilty of something, and is not disclosing it
Background info: AH heard this from his parents growing up and would use it with family and friends.
Analysis: I agree with the interpretations AH gave about the proverb. I don’t think the proverb is necessarily about giving advice but rather about pointing something out or calling someone out. It is more of an indirect way to expose someone for something they have done. In this case it seems to be a metaphorical phrase. Personally, I haven’t heard of any proverbs that are similar to this one in the common everyday language. However, there is a quote by Plato that similarly touches the concept, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”