Soi: A Proverbial Sting

It is said that in olden times Soi was cooked as a herbal vegetable!
 But when you walk through it, be in a protective gear of long pants, long sleeves & thick gloves. Stinging nettle stings to terrible pains.
But when you walk through it, be in a protective gear of long pants, long sleeves & thick gloves. Stinging nettle stings to terrible pains.Wikimedia Commons/ Maksym Kozlenko

"Soi” in Kashmiri is “Urtica Diocia” in Botany. It is a wild herbal plant that grows in wild & desolate places. Soi, nettles, grow in any soil but not with flowers, remember it; typical feature of Soi indeed. Its appropriate English name is stinging nettle.

Although the said Botanical name covers all kinds of wild nettles, Kashir Soi is reputed for its harsh stinging bites. Among local Kashmiri Brahmans, commonly known as Pandits & Bataas, Soi is very sacred plant as they believe that Shiva first planted Soi on the earth & so they pluck its leaves & thrown them on Shivlinga Emblem.

In the past, in olden days of Kashir, Soi was also used as a remedy for indigestion in children. It is said that in olden times Soi was cooked as a herbal vegetable? It is also said that some Gurkhas & villagers in Himachal prepare a vegetable dish of Soi?

Like other green & greenery of nature, Soi, with its dark green leaves, looks delightful to eyes from a distance. But when you walk through it, be in a protective gear of long pants, long sleeves & thick gloves. Stinging nettle stings to terrible pains.

Some decades ago, Soi was used by teachers in schools [invariably government schools then] as a measure of punishment for correcting erring students. It was known as Soi Shalak, nettle-punishment.

Thrashing with Soi either on bare hands or on buttocks when the naughty, erring-pupil (small kids) were either late or failed to learn Sabaq (lesson) given by the teacher for remembering by heart & committing to memory at home, or failure to do home work, simple.

It was, of course, a nasty & archaic method of correcting mistakes & errors in learning & remembering Sabaq [lesson] by the school children. Girl-students were generally exempt of Soi Shalakh.

The parents were never happy with this method of correcting mistakes of their children. Complaints were lodged with the authorities of educational system of the valley against Soi Shalak.

As times changed, this bizarre method of amending erring-children was strictly disallowed in all schools & the practice does not exist now anywhere.

There are several proverbs, idioms & folklore stories associated with Soi. Proverbs succinctly express the ideas behind them. They convey an idea of truth or wisdom or advice for the benefit of the people & over a long period of time, or from time immemorial, they become a commonplace in spoken language of any cultural community. Kashmiri culture is rich in proverbial history.

As in any part of the world, Kashmiri proverbs have been preserved over centuries in oral-tradition. Kashmir language is the medium through which it has been transmitted from generation to generation.

There are a number of proverbs in Kashmiri language that have come down from ancient to present times by oral-story-telling & also by spoken-Kashmiri-language in daily conversations of Kashmirian life.

Kashmiri proverbs are also documented which must have been adapted from oral-traditions. The source or background of many proverbs is anonymous or difficult to trace but there are many Kashmiri proverbs that have a background.

For many proverbs, imagery characters, animals, flora and fauna of the valley, and birds with unique characteristics, & varying objects of common use have been used to express the underlying meaning and idea of the proverbs.

We shall now deal with some Kashmiri proverbs, idioms & wise sayings that are found around Soi in spoken Kashmiri language. They are:

(1)Soi Shalakhi Khote Gov Kathi Shalakh Sakhit”: which literally means whip of words is harsher & severer than the whip of nettle [Soi]. Its meaning is so candid that it hardly needs elaboration to understand that cuss, impolite & hard language has deeper impact on human mind & psyche than archaic application of Soi Shalakh on body parts.

(2)Soi Seyith Ayis Mandal Chalinh” which literally means to wash mouth or buttocks with Soi. It indicates ill-effects of communicating with a foul-mouthed person who uses very harsh words & tone of language with the other side in a spoken or written conversation, discourse or any other mode of communication. The victim in such a communication situation is compared to be the one washing his hands/buttocks with nettle, the foul-mouthed abuser.

(3)Yemis Ni Khoi, Na Roi, Tamis bass Soi”. Literally, it means one who is ill-tempered, a faceless demon, deserves to be only thrashed with Soi.

(4)Anim Soi, Wavim Soi, Lajim Soi Panass”. It literally means, I brought nettle, I planted it & it stung me only because this is the chief quality of Soi. It is intrinsically harmful & stinging. Its grows into harmful & stinging plant everywhere its seeds are sown. If Soi is wedded to a new, different culture, it will still grow into stinging nettle there as well, will harm every good seed & plant around in the new culture it is wedded to. There is folklore behind this proverb. It is said that in olden days there was a Hindu mendicant/ Sadhu in Kashmir. Kashmir had great number of mendicants in the past. This is a fact. Anyway, Sadhu wanted to attract attention of people & earn money cheaply & easily. He devised a plan.

He brought a small Soi sapling, & fixed it in handful of mud in his palm for several days. The story says that it grew into a plant which attracted the attention of the people who threw alms before the Sadhu. He had a pupil who became jealous when he saw people offering coins to the Sadhu. So, in a fit of jealousy, he struck the Sadhu’s hand & the Soi & mud fell on the ground. It is said that Sadhu then said this Proverb. It is also possible that the Soi had stung the Sadhu personally after some time, so the proverb. The latter explanation seems to be more appropriate.

Now reverting to pupil story, Sadhu had brought up, nurtured & taught the pupil from childhood like his son. Here the proverb has apart from literally meaning, a very good moral lesson. It is often used when a person is harmed by one’s own decisions & actions of helping/ befriending/ associating someone honestly which proves ultimately very harmful for that person.

It also means to be stung by a nettle, to get worried, by becoming engaged in fruitless actions. This proverb has relevance till date in number of situational cases & the local populace uses it to describe many ugly consequences of bad decisions & actions either of one’s own or of others.

Tailpiece:

There is a wise saying attributed to mystic poet of Kashmir, Sheikh Noor ud Din Noorani of Chari Sharief which is “ Soi Bielliss Sug Na Dezieh, Sarfih Tholun Dezieh Ni Phah” which literally means one should never water nettle seeds, nor brood over snake’s eggs.

Its meaning & idea are crystal clear. Never nurture & cultivate bad people around you as they are sure to bite & sting you someday like nettle & snake.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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