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'It's time for Pooran to go home'

Pooran Singh, the Indian hawker who worked in Western Victoria Source: Supplied by Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan

Presenting the audio documentary 'Pooran Singh's final journey', as broadcast on SBS Punjabi program exactly 10 years ago, in August 2010.

Transcript of Part 1 of Pooran Singh's final journey: 

Studio + music

This is a tale of two “places” – one, a small country town in the Australian state of Victoria, named Warrnambool, and another a small village in the Indian state of Punjab, named Uppal Bhopa. This is the story of an Indian migrant Pooran Singh, who migrated from Punjab to Australia, and whose last wish that his ashes be immersed in the River Ganges proved to be so enduring, that three generations of an Australian family made it their priority, a member of his extended family especially flew from England to Australia to fulfil the wish, and an international sporting legend, Kapil Dev, was inspired to come to Australia and personally escort the ashes back to India. 

A plaque at the niche at Warrnambool cemetery that remained home to Pooran's ashes for decades
A plaque at the niche at Warrnambool cemetery that remained home to Pooran's ashes for decades
Manpreet K Singh, SBS Punjabi

To know the full story, click on the link below

Transcript continued: 

Let’s first hear from Alice Guyett Wood, why generations of her family considered it their duty to send Pooran Singh’s ashes back to India. 

Alice: Pooran Singh died in 1947. His ashes have been with us since that time. In 1947 it would have been the second generation of the Guyetts who ran the business, it would have been perhaps Bert who would have dealt with the family and organised Pooran Singh’s funeral. 

Manpreet: So how did you come to know, who told you about the ashes? 

Alice: In conversation with my father. Dad died in 1986 and prior to his death we had a conversation about Pooran Singh’s ashes, saying that they were still with us, and he should have organised to send them back to India to the river Ganges to be scattered. Perhaps we thought maybe one day we’d do a trip to India and take them over ourselves, but that hasn’t eventuated. I think that we looked at it and thought we really didn’t have an authority on what to do with them, but after this long period of time I think for Pooran Singh to go home to India, it would be the right time for it to happen. 

Studio: On the one hand, we have the emotions and the humanity shown by the Guyett family and on the other, the magnetic attraction of filial ties spurred Harmel Uppal (the grandson of Pooran’s brother, Sultani Ram) to come from Wolverhampton, UK, to Australia. 

Music 

Manpreet:  When you first heard about this story that your great Uncles’ ashes are still preserved in the Warrnambool cemetery, what was your initial reaction? 

Harmel: At first, we were shocked…..completely shocked. We wondered if this were true, whether there’s been some mistake, or if this was some other Pooran Singh, not our great Uncle.  

Manpreet: So later when you slowly came to believe this indeed, was your own family elder, and now you’ve come all the way to Melbourne and in a few days will collect the ashes from Warrnambool, how do you feel now? 

Harmel: Now that I know that this is my own flesh and blood, we feel that to fulfil our great Uncle’s last wish is our biggest responsibility now. I know in my heart that this will be very emotional – not having seen my great uncle ever, never having known him, now it feels like I have him right here, beside me. I think the days ahead will be very difficult, but I think we will get a lot of happiness too, because his spirit will finally be happy. 

Studio: Providing a third angle to this story, was an international cricket superstar, hailed by Wisden as the Cricketer of the Century, an outstanding sportsperson and an outstanding human being, Kapil Dev, who was truly inspired by Pooran’s story. 

Kapil: I had a strange feeling…..um…I think, if somebody died before I was even born…Pooran Singh ji[1] died well before I was born, and I thought, what would their life have been like in those times, how did they live, what did they think,…the whole day went into thinking how did they survive in those days, how did they communicate with people (here in Australia) …all those…. 

Manpreet: Kapil ji, why is it that you get very emotional the moment you hear the name Pooran Singh. Even now, your emotions seem very raw… 

Kapil: I think there are some stories that touch your heart directly, there are people who tug at your heartstrings, and I don’t think anyone can understand why or how that happens.  And sometimes, you don’t like a particular person despite the fact that they’ve done nothing to harm you. So perhaps, there was something about the name Pooran Singh, maybe it was the way you told me his story or the way I read it in the newspapers, I just felt, this should happen – why not fulfil someone’s last wish? I think that was all there was to it – or maybe I was related to him in some previous lifetime…what else can I say? 

Music 

Studio: So, this story is about love, harmony, mutual respect, humanity and coexistence. Thanks to it, contrary to the recent saturation of the media with reports of violence against Indians in Australia, a positive story about human values and cross-cultural relationships came to the forefront. Average Australians began reminiscing about their history and remembered their rich multicultural past, fondly recollecting stories of Indians who have been coming to Australia since the 19th century, and confirming that anecdotes of these wonderful relationships still abound.  This is the special gift from a simple Punjabi migrant, Pooran Singh, to us, who not only brought two cities together, but has highlighted the history of Indian arrival into Australia, has created a bond between three countries, and indeed three continents, and has united many families and a sporting legend with the common goal of fulfilling his final wish. Kapil Dev further enunciated the reason why this story is even more relevant in today’s social and political climate.

Kapil: I’m here only because I like to see the differences that occurred in the last one year, between some of 2% negative people of Australia or India, or whatever, it happened….this is the bridge.  We want to live happily in this world, and we need each other’s support. 

Kapil Dev with the Guyetts (Alice and Bryan) at the ashes handover ceremony in Warrnambool
Kapil Dev with the Guyetts (Alice and Bryan) at the ashes handover ceremony in Warrnambool
SBS Punjabi

Studio: So this is the story of Pooran Singh, who came to Australia 111 years ago, died here 63 years ago, but today, posthumously, he has become a symbol of multicultural harmony and mutual respect. We’re presenting now the story of ‘Pooran Singh’s final journey’. It is my great privilege to be a small part of this journey, both in Australia and in India and today we begin telling you about this amazing odyssey. It began on July 25, 2010 in the small coastal town of Warrnambool in Western Victoria, when the ashes were formally handed over by the Guyett family, to the sporting superstar from India, Kapil Dev and a member of Pooran’s extended family from the UK, Harmel Uppal. This is how Brian Guyett, brother of Alice Guyett-Wood welcomed everyone to the ceremony: 

Brian: On behalf of the Guyett family, which actually goes back to 1905, four generations and that’s how come we’ve held these ashes for so long in our family, I’d like to welcome everyone here this afternoon and a special welcome to the Indian community, Harmel and Kapil Dev. Very shortly these ashes will leave Warrnambool after 63 years for the last time, late tomorrow night they will leave Melbourne, Australia, bound for India. 

Music 

Studio: I should tell you that both Alice and Brian Guyett, were extremely emotional that day, especially Brian, who had tears streaming from his eyes for the entire duration of the ceremony. I must also tell you that hundreds of Melbournians travelled to Warrnambool for the ashes handover ceremony that day, packed into three chartered buses and many private cars. Children, youth, the elderly, and entire families travelled the distance for the occasion – what prompted them to do so? 

Vox Pop 1: There is a sense of pride and honour in our hearts that we had an ancestor who everyone seems to know in Warrnambool, they have preserved all of his things out of respect for him, we are very proud of that. And we should read more about his history here and learn from him.  His name was Pooran which means ‘full’ and we should learn to live a full life from him. 

Vox Pop 2: It is the responsibility of every Punjabi to be involved in an occasion like this. The main thing is that the Australian community which has preserved his ashes for so many years, should be admired and thanked. They have presented a great example of brotherhood. And I don’t have enough words to praise Kapil Dev ji adequately for what he has done for this cause too. 

Vox Pop 3: My emotions were stirred when I heard about this story and without having any prior connection to the man, I felt like I was related to him and that relationship has brought me here today. I’m really pleased that today, so many years after Pooran’s death, we’re gathered here as a community, to pay our respects to him. If it’s true that the spirit lives on after death, then today, Pooran’s spirit will be extremely pleased to see the whole community together,  to see the love and respect his community is showing him. 

(Music

Vox Pop 4: I’m here as a visitor from India. When I heard about this story in the past few days, I felt really good that a Sikh’s ashes have been preserved here for so long – something we didn’t know in India. And then, when Manpreet traced Pooran’s family in India, and told Kapil ji about this story which inspired him to come here today, I feel really proud. It’s wonderful that I’m only here in Australia as a visitor from India, and today have a chance to participate in an event like this in which the entire community has come together. 

Vox Pop 5: First of all it makes me really happy to see that our history, our heritage has been preserved here for so many years, and that too by an Australian family, an Aussie family. Then I wanted to find out more about this man, when did he come here, how, what did he do, that’s why I’m here today. Australia maybe a ‘foreign’ land for many of us, but when we come together like this, and see the unity and harmony within all communities, then one doesn’t feel like an outsider – one feels like one belongs here, like we are part of the Australian family. 

Vox Pop 6: When we first heard the program on SBS Radio, both my husband and I became very emotional that the ashes of one of our great grand ancestors are lying here and that they are trying to trace Pooran’s family in India. My husband and I had resolved that if no family can be traced, then we will come forward and help to repatriate the ashes. After that, Kapil Dev offered to come here and Pooran ji’s grand nephew was traced to England. We offered to host him in Australia and feel very privileged that Harmel Uppal, who has come from England, is now staying with us. We feel that even we have contributed in a small way to fulfil his last wish. 

Vox Pop 7: This is wonderful that we are here together, remembering someone who came here over a hundred years ago; he may have died decades ago but we still consider him to be our brother and are gathered here as family. 

Vox Pop 8: I’m so happy that we are here to collect the ashes today. We are even more proud of the local Warrnambool community that has worked so hard to preserve the ashes, especially in these days. We are very proud of the hand of friendship extended by the local community here. Everything that has happened today, how ever it has taken place, has been beautiful. 

Music

 

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