This Kashmiri proverb literal connotes that one man cut the basic/supporting beam of a wooden-bridge over a stream. Thousands fell into it. Near analogous Urdu idioms are: “Lamhon Nay Khata Ki, Karno Nay Saza Payi”. Centuries suffer for guilt of moments. Meaning: One man's wrong brings downfall of many.
A single person does wrong can become destruction of a whole family, or a community or a country or a nation. A mischievous person who hinders others from crossing over safely to other side of the bridge. Sometimes one or few perverts become the cause of destruction of multitudes of a people.
The word “many” in the proverbial context may represent a family-unit or a community or a Qoum or a country or even the whole world. Ghar Ka Bedi Lanka Dhayeh and Iss Ghar Ko Aag Lagadi Iss Ghar Kay Chiraag Nay seem other equivalent idioms of the captioned Kashmiri proverb. The first proverb means division in a group or community or country is the reason of its damage. Split in unity destroys the people.
The proverb owes its origin to the epic story of Ramayana where Ravana’s younger brother, Vibhishana, fled Lanka to break the secrets. It was with that information given to Ram by Vibhishana that facilitated Ram’s victory on Lanka and killing of Ravana who was Raja of Lanka.
Iss Ghar Ko Aag Lagadi Iss Ghar Kay Chiraag Nay literally means that this house is set afire by its own house-lamp. These wise sayings are near to equal in meaning of and underlying idea of above-cited Kashmiri proverb. Though not verbatim the same, these Indian idioms correspond to its meaning is clear beyond doubt.
The idiom has a real story background behind it. In the past, as we know, the bridges across rivers and streams of the valley were made of wood. There was a shrine somewhere in a remote area of Kashmir.
The crowds of people travelled to visit the shrine. One day there was a wicked fellow in the crowd who under the pretext of making preparations for the pilgrims led them to visit the shrine situated on other side of the stream. When the people were walking on foot, there was a bridge ahead.
The wicked fellow ran fast and crossed over the bridge quickly. He reached the opposite bank. Since he was evil minded, he had devised an evil plan. He was given an axe/hatchet by an equally evil minded friend who was a woodcutter. With the woodcutter’s axe, he cut the main supporting beam of the bridge [Sume in Kashmiri].
It broke the Kadal [bridge] into two pieces, and the structure collapsed. When people reached the bridge, they found it broken. They could not go back to their villages from where they had travelled. They had made already preparations for paying homage at the shrine. They were determined to cross over to the other side of the stream where the shrine was located.
Two to three persons among them waded through the fast flowing water of the stream and reached the bank on the opposite side of the stream. Others were motivated by the courage and determination of those two to three persons. They gripped each other’s hands tightly, in a row, or a line, and began crossing over the stream.
But when they reached the middle of the stream, the depth and swiftness of the water of the stream proved too much for them to bear. They lost heart and were carried away by the torrents of water. They drowned. So the proverb, one man cut the bridge, thousands lost their lives. Thousands is just a representational figure to describe the damage caused by a single man's mischief.
More axe-related idioms:
Since the word “axe” finds a mention in the cited Kashmiri idiom that was used by the wrongdoer for committing heinous crime, it will be appropriate to refer to some more idioms in Kashmiri language that refer to the tools of cutting mutton like Shrakh. They are: Shrah’Kih Te Mazas Chu Ma Wad ? It is a Kashmiri proverb about knife and meat, strong and weak. Literally it implies that what answer will the meat give to the knife?
There is no argument between the two. Meat and knife, no match indeed! Its English equivalent seems to be the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head. It has also a general meaning that tyrant [ Zalim Badshah] will not receive any reply from his tyrannized subjects [Praja]. Ancient tyrants fastened captives to a dead body face-to-face until they were suffocated by the stench. Suffocation kills silently but surely like meat under the heavy fine edged chopping knife. Knife minces meat to pieces.
There is a Persian-Afghan proverb regarding knife which means when the knife is over a man's head, he remembers God. A Turkish proverb about knife is: We heal the wounds of a knife but not those of the tongue. How True! In Kashmiri there is one more Proverb of fame. It is Hali Ti Shrakh, Bali Ti Shrakh. It means caught in a perilous or difficult situation from both sides which could be between two relations or just situations. In the cited idiom, the people found themselves between devil and deep sea like situation which is described in the famous Urdu idiom: Agay Kunwa, Pechay Khatayi.
A proverb is the wisdom of many but wit of one: Lord John Russell