In the second part of R. K. Narayan's novel The Painter of Signs, Raman and Daisy are on their way back from a remote village. They have spent a night on the road, Raman sleeping under a bullock cart and Daisy sleeping in the bullock cart. Or at least, that's where Raman thought Daisy was sleeping, since it turns out she spent the night in a tree because she had heard a tiger. In reality, she had climbed into the tree when she had heard Raman climb into the cart.

Commenting on the event, she says,

I now realize the meaning of the proverb, "When you are married to the devil, you must be prepared to climb the tamarind tree"—they must have had me in mind.

Raman later thinks to himself,

What did she mean by this proverb? He had often heard his aunt mention it. Did she think of herself as married to him already? Or did she have any clue as to the thoughts crossing his mind?

My question is threefold:

  1. Is this a real proverb or did Narayan invent it?
  2. If it is a real proverb, what does it mean outside this specific context?
  3. What does Daisy mean by it?

1 Answer 1


This is a translation of a common Tamil proverb that goes something like:

பேய்க்கு வாக்கப்பட்டால் புளிய மரத்தில் ஏறித்தான் ஆகணும்
Transliteration: Pēykku vākkappaṭṭāl puḷiya marattil ēṟittāṉ ākaṇum
Translation: If you are married to a ghost, then you have no choice but to climb the tamarind tree.

The context behind the proverb is that ghosts reside on tamarind trees — at least, this is a common belief in south India — so, if you are a girl who is married to a ghost, then you'll have to move in to your husband's home, which in this case would be the tamarind tree.

The proverb is used to express the idea that one has no choice but to face the (unsavoury) consequences of some action. If a friend of mine joined the marketing department but complains that he doesn't want to travel so much, I might tell him "Well, if you're married to a ghost, you've got to climb the tamarind tree."

I'm not very well equipped to answer your last question since I haven't read The Painter of Signs (yet), but from the context you have provided it sounds like Daisy is just making a play on the words of the proverb here, since she literally climbed a tamarind tree that night. The pun makes a bit more sense if she's romantically interested in Raman, because maybe that's why she ended up spending a night on the road with him and climbing a tamarind tree? No wonder that Raman's thoughts are along those lines, poor fellow.

  • 1
    They spent the night on the road due to unforeseen circumstances: the ox pulling the ox cart got injured, so its owner went looking for another ox. It is not very clear whether Daisy is romantically interested in Raman at this point of the story; it is definitely not the reason why they spent that night on the road.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 9:15
  • @Tsundoku I meant to say that her potential romantic interest in Raman might have indirectly led her to spending a night on the road with Raman, because she may not have decided to travel with him otherwise. But hey, I'm just talking out of my hat, not having read the novel.
    – user5387
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 9:23

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