Who are you calling an owl?
Where I come from an owl is considered a wise creature.
Telling someone that they are “a wise owl” is a compliment that’s well received.
Tales and fables in many European countries and across North American have made sure that the owl has been recognised as a wise creature, but in the Indian subcontinent the reverse is the case.
The owl is considered to be a foolish creature. For example, take this phrase, “Mujhe ullu bana rahe (Male) / Rahi (Female) ho?” (Ullu is Hindi for owl). It literally means, are you turning me into an owl? To be an owl, is to be a fool.
It’s one of my favourites phrases to say to autowalahs when they’re quoting me a crazy price. I say it with a big smile. When it goes well I’m able to engage in a little bit of banter and barter to bring the price down. But if it said sternly, with a frown and a harsh tone, it could be taken as being very aggressive.
But, back to owl based insults. Calling someone Ullu ka pattha, a still young but fully grown offspring of an owl, means that they are a clumsy fool.
This is a phrase I won’t be sharing with my wife. We’re practising Hindi together and she thinks I am a clumsy fool. Whilst there is no doubting that she is right, I don’t need to be told that I am a clumsy fool in Hindi as well as English.
Understanding India isn’t simple, is it?
Now, having written about all this negative stuff about the owl, here comes the twist in the tail.
The owl is the vahana (the vehicle / or the mount of) the Hindu goddess of wealth Lakshmi. And not only that, both Lakshmi and the owl are worshipped at Diwali. Confused? Don’t worry. You’re not the only one.