On the surface, the proverb says that a thing that needs mending ought to be mended before it assumes serious proportions.
Take for example a cloth that is a little torn. It can be easily mended with a single stitch. But if it is neglected, it requires more stitches. Further neglect may also make it useless.
By extension, the proverb means that timely action helps us in overcoming problems. Prompt action at an early stage prevents serious trouble in future.
Take for instance, the breach in a dam in Gujarat. It was not repaired in the early stages. This resulted in the bursting of the dam. A water sheet of twenty feet high ran across the village and thousands of people died in Marui, a beautiful city, in three minutes. It is case of delay and ‘delays are dangerous’.
Same is the case of a student who falls into the habit of procrastination. He must read his lessons regularly. He must not postpone them. If he neglects to study in time he will have to strain before the examinations. He will have to ‘burn the midnight oil’. It may spoil his health and in addition there is every danger of forgetting whatever he has read. He becomes a victim of tension and fear.
The popular story of the grandmother who shielded her grandson illustrates this maxim. A boy stole a pencil from a classmate and showed it to his grandmother. Instead of questioning him about it she kept quiet. The boy’s thefts went unchecked until one day he was arrested. Of only the boy had been corrected in time, he would not have become a thief. Timely action would have prevented him from falling into wrong ways.
Neglecting to replace a nail in a horse’s shoe may lose a kingdom itself. As it is said:
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For want a horse, the rider was lost;
For want of a rider, the battle was lost;
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
Thus the saying advises us to take timely action for ” a small hole, if neglected, will sink a big ship”.