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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A ‘thousand’ Anna Hazare

A delegation led by Pakistan’s most respected retired judge of the Supreme Court, Nasir Aslam Zahid, has gone to India and invited Anna Hazare to visit Pakistan. If this brave man comes to Pakistan, the problem of our endemic corruption will be further highlighted.

Anna Hazare is the latest Indian icon after he staged a genuine hunger strike against corruption and brought the Manmohan Singh government to its knees. Pakistan, itself haunted by corruption, was impressed and looked around for its own Anna Hazare and found none. So, why not borrow?

There are jokes too. Since ‘anna’ sounded like a Punjabi word meaning ‘blind’ and ‘hazare’ meant ‘thousand’, some wags coined the phrase, ‘In Pakistan, hazaron annay’ (In Pakistan there are thousands of blind men).

But ‘anna’ in Marathi means ‘elder brother’. In Indian comedy movies ‘anna’ is also applied to the local mafia thugs, just as ‘bhai(log)’ (brother) in Urdu is applied in Mumbai to the underworld dons. But when applied to Altaf Hussain, it is meant to show respect.

But Kisan Baburao Hazare was not originally a Maratha. He was born in 1937 in Gujarat and follows the teachings of the great Gujarati leader Mahatama Gandhi. For his social services, he got the Padma Bhushan — the third-highest civilian award — for establishing a model village in Maharashtra.

Anna Hazare had a zigzag career. He got into the army and fought the India-China war in 1962. Three years later, he also fought the 1965 war with Pakistan and was ‘born again’ in the battlefield of Khem Karan. He decided to devote the rest of his life to serving people rather than the army.

The name Hazare stumps me. It has no etymology except that it is related to the Urdu word ‘hazar’ meaning ‘thousand’. There are a number of places named Hazara in South Asia. A whole region in Central Afghanistan is named Hazara.

The word is Persian and is a translation of the Mongol word ‘ming’ or ‘minggan’ applied by the Mongols to Central Afghanistan. First, this was the name applied to the military unit the Mongols stationed there. This military unit comprised a thousand troops.

Not far from Afghanistan, a part of Pakistan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is called Hazara, where people want their own province these days. In Punjab, too, a region used to be called Hazara, differentiated by its prefix, ‘Takht’.

The Mughals were half Mongols and followed Mongol practices, including creating army units of one thousand. No surprise, therefore, that India has a lot of Hazara-like place-names. Hindu names like Hazare and Hazarika are actually indicative of places of origin.

There is a Hazara in Chittagong in Bangladesh. And there is a Hazaribagh district in Jharkhand in India which people think means a thousand gardens. It could originally be a kind of camping ground for ‘thousands’ of troops.

If the word is ‘hazar’ (thousand) in Persian, it is ‘sahasar’ in Hindi.

We have the city of Sahasram in Bihar where the great Pathan ruler Sher Shah Suri was born and finally buried. Sahasram even has a Rohtas fort, which Suri duplicated in what is now Pakistan, near Rawalpindi.
How did Sahasram get its name? It is believed that a demon named Sahastrabahu (with thousand arms) lived near here from the age of Ramayana. This puts paid to our theory that it could come from the ‘thousand troop’ origin.

I am willing to accept that Sahasram and ‘hazar’ are cognate. And the great etymologist Shipley says the word thousand, itself is simply ‘swollen hundred’, just as thumb is ‘swollen finger’ and thigh is ‘swollen leg’.


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