Proverb – India

“Mokkai Vangani Mrani Vanguna”

If it does not bend as a sapling, will it when it is a tree?

Anisha said that she learned this proverb as a child growing up in an Indian household in Cerritos, California. She told me that she learned it from her father. She said that since he went to an English medium school that he would must have learned it when he went to elementary school in India. The source of the proverb probably lies somewhere in Southern India, where Anisha’s family is originally from.

Anisha explained that the proverb basically means that children who are naughty and unable to follow the general rules of conduct will only steadily get worse as they grow older and continue to misbehave. The sapling represents the malleable child, while the tree represents the hardened adult. She said the proverb is pretty straightforward and means pretty much what it states. “If you don’t change bad habits early on, they become worse and harder to kick.” The proverb acts as a sort of encouragement for children to change their maladaptive ways

She said that her parents use this proverb most when she is in trouble, particularly when it has something to do with bad habits. When her parents are especially angry or disappointed in her actions, they point to this proverb to try and correct her. Her brother and sister are also told this proverb constantly in the same context and for the same reasons. Anisha said that this proverb would generally be used most in this context to warn children to correct their behaviors or face severe punishment.

Her parents only say the actual proverb to her on occasion, but she said that they reiterate the concept of the phrase everyday. Despite actually being in question form, the proverb is always said in a statement form, which makes it more of a rhetorical question. She said that a good example of when they actually use the proverb would be when she talks back to her parents. They would cite this proverb and go on to remind her that she should not turn her argumentative ways into permanent habits. Although Anisha doesn’t like it when her parents use this phrase, she thinks that it makes a lot of sense and agrees in the context in which it is used.

This proverb is also mentioned in Vishwanath Narawane’s Proverbs of India. The book published various Indian texts with both English and Hindi translations. Their English translation says, “If as a sapling, it doesn’t bend, would it bend when it becomes a tree?” Although there is no section describing the meaning behind the proverb, I agree with Anisha in that the message is very clear. The proverb can be easily interpreted as a phrase put in the parent’s arsenal to change the poor behavior of children.

This proverb can also be applied to modern life quite easily. For example, chain smokers usually start when they are in their teens. Once they become addicted, they usually are not able to stop on their own, especially when it has been a few years since they began smoking. Regarded as a bad habit, smoking is more difficult to quit as an adult than as a teenager. In America, the equivalent proverb would be, “It is better to nip it in the bud.” It is better to change early on than to let behaviors be set in stone.

Annotation: Narawane, Vishwanath D. Bh-Arat-Iya Kah-Avata SanGraha =: Proverbs of India. Triveni SanGama, BhaSha: Proverbs, Indic, 1983.