I was watching an old classic with grandparents – Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, possibly the funniest movie ever made. Anyhow, there comes the scene when the villain’s villainous uncle tells everyone that the villian is returning from ‘Vilayat’ in a few days – Vilayat being what I have always taken to be a reference to ‘the West’.
Having heard the word Vilayat after a really long time, I was suddenly puzzled by its etymology; where on earth was the word from? And what did it realy mean? In conversation over dinner, I raised the question, and my mom said, ‘Vilayat is from Blighty.’ So like ‘go down’ became the hindi word, godaam; drunk Britishers ‘off to Blighty’ gave the sepoys their ‘Vilayat’; and Vilayat is hence a specific reference to The British Isles; like ‘Vilayati Pani’ is a specific reference to Scoth whiskey…(I exaggerate here..)
But I was suspicious. If vilayat was a reference to Britishness, was it possible for people to be called ‘England’ Khan, for example. (I am referring to Ustad Vilayat Khan here). Well, Amreeka Singh is a name I have heard, so…
Could Blighty possibly be a derivation from Vilayat? The first google i did gave the following…
Blighty (1) England. (2) A wound sufficiently serious to necessitate the recipientís removal to an English Hospital. Hindustani, Vilagaty, bilate, provincial Europe and English.
(1) General army. Probably pre-World War I (Green).
This sense was probably first used by those in the Indian Army, but gained wide currency in World War I. B&P allude to how great meaning was attached to the word: ëIn this one word was gathered all the soldierís home-sickness and affection and war-weariness.í ëBlightyí was derived from the Hindustani ëbilayatií meaning ëforeign, and especially Europeí. The Hindustani came ultimately from the Arabic ëwilayatií meaning ëprovinceí (Elting).
But Wilayat does not mean ‘province. That’s a rather provincial reading. Further googling gives us the following.
“Wilāyat,” derived from wilā’, means power, authority or a right of certain kind. In ShÌ’a theology, “wilāyat” is the authority invested in the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt as representatives of Almighty Allāh on this earth.
Wilayat also means State/Power. So the use of the term Vilayat for England shows a keen awareness of power relationships in nineteenth century India, from where the subalterns of the British Indian Army picked up their ‘Blighty’.
“In this one word was gathered all the soldierís home-sickness and affection and war-weariness.” Next time I pass the War Memorial Arch, and see the people eating ice-creams in the lawns, i will look closer at the names of the dead of the British Indian Army which cover all the surfaces – seventy thousand of them – who died in the Two Afghan Wars, and the First World war, all died for the sake of ol’ Blighty.