Water from a Stone – Gujarati Proverb

“પથ્થરમાંથી પાણી લો”

Translation: “getting water from a stone”.

Context: The informant, my mother, was born in India in the 1970s. She had an arranged marriage of sorts, in that she was introduced to different people from good families and could choose someone from them. They would figure out if they were compatible, and get married nearly immediately. She told me that when she was looking for someone to marry, her uncle told her one of the criteria should be to look for someone who could do this. All of my family is from Gujarat, and this is a Gujarati proverb.

If you describe someone with this phrase, it means essentially that they can make something out of any situation– if you give them a stone, they will find water in it. Typically, the “something” they could make would be money. It makes sense to advise someone not to find a man who is already rich, but one who is industrious; even if he has money now, if by circumstance he loses it all, he will be able to make it back.

Analysis: Gujarati culture tends to put a lot of value on being able to make money. It’s a good quality if you want stability in life regardless, but also it comes from years of being traders and businesspeople. A significant amount of Gujarati people are part of the merchant caste, including my family, and so it makes sense to place importance on having the creativity to get oneself out of any bad financial circumstances.

I’ve also noticed that the idea of coaxing something out of a stone (specifically blood) is a concept that can be found in other cultures’ proverbs as well. Interestingly, however, that tends to be in the context of talking about an impossible task or achieving something incredibly difficult. Here, it’s not a “you are destitute and must spin straw into gold” but instead a “you are destitute but you have the intelligence to make this straw you just found into something and the charisma to sell it to someone else”. They seem like oicotypical variations on the idea of someone achieving the difficult task of producing something useful out of something useless, with both likely rendered different by what their respective backgrounds hold relevant.