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Kapil Dev: Pooran's ashes are a 'bridge between India and Australia'

The ashes handover ceremony at Warrnambool cemetery. Seen here from L-R: Avis Quarrell, Alice Guyett-Wood, Manpreet K Singh, Harmel Uppal and Kapil Dev Source: SBS Punjabi

Presenting the transcript second part of the audio documentary 'Pooran Singh's final journey', as broadcast on SBS Punjabi in August 2010.

To read the entire story about Pooran Singh's ashes, click on the links below.

Full Transcript of audio documentary part 2:

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Studio: Pooran ji’s story not only touched the Punjabi community but the entire Australian population. Many elderly residents of Warrnambool shared their memories of Pooran Singh, one being John Moore. Pooran ji used to camp at John’s parents’s farm, for three months every year. The Moore family looked after Pooran during his last days when he was unwell, and Pooran left ₤150 for John and Veronica Moore (John’s parents) in his will. 

John: He was a very generous, one of the most generous men you could get in them day, and he used our farm, as you know as a base. My mother would welcome him and he used to come in the house, cook…he was very very kind to her and wherever he went, he was welcomed and loved and so were some of his fellow hawkers that went around. As he was befriended at home by my parents and my father was his executor in his will, he made the promise to Pooran that he’d get him cremated and his ashes be sent back to the Ganges. But I think it was due to a war, breaking out of a war between Pakistan and India, and it never eventuated and they sat here through three generations of the Guyett family. Anyway, it’s all come to an end now and it’s good. And to think that so many people have come up from Melbourne, his great nephew…a very nice bloke, and Kapil Dev…lot of effort they’ve put in to do this, and on their own bat! 

Studio: As John Moore was telling us, his father was the executor of Pooran ji’s will and it is he who arranged to send ₤1, 440 to Pooran’s nephews in India, back in 1947. Amazingly, Pooran’s horse cart, which stayed at the Moore farm for many decades, is still around and the Moore family has donated it to the local museum. 

John: The wagon was in a shed at home on our farm, and as I eventually cleaned the place up, they opened up the MaritimeVillage here. And so I thought, I donated. I donated any horse, harnesses, wagons and that was it – never thinking this would be the result! Naturally over the years, a bit of rot set in, so they rebuilt the top, but the chassis and wheels, it was his wagon. Amazing, I still remember sitting up in the wagon! 

The fully restored wagon, believed to be Pooran Singh's, which is on display at Warrnambool Maritime Museum
The fully restored wagon, believed to be Pooran Singh's, which is on display at Warrnambool Maritime Museum, donated by the Moore family.
Supplied

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Studio: Today, Pooran’s cart has become a tourist attraction and this is what Warrnambool’s mayor Frank Neoh had to say about it. 

Neoh: Warrnambool has a strong and proud multicultural history and Mr Pooran Singh will forever be embedded in that history. The wagon at the entrance to our MaritimeMuseum is that of Mr Pooran Singh. It was donated by the Moore family of Wooleston Road, where Mr Pooran Singh camped. The wagon will therefore stand as a permanent memorial, not only to Pooran Singh, but it will be representative of the valuable part of the Indian community that has played a role in the history of our city and our region. After 63 years of Warrnambool being the guardian of Mr Pooran Singh’s ashes, it is now appropriate that his family now undertakes the repatriation of the ashes, as per Mr Pooran Singh’s wishes. I extend the on-going hand of friendship to Mr Pooran Singh’s family and friends and hope that the relationship between our communities will continue on into the future. 

Studio: Just like the Mayor of Warrnambool said that Indians have played an important part in the history of that city, an elderly resident of Warrnambool, Joan McCain shared her own personal memories too. Joan McCain remembers playing cricket and other games with a 10-12 year old Indian boy, when she was of the same age. The boy would accompany a Punjabi hawker, who may not be Pooran Singh, since there were many other Punajbi hawkers in western Victoria around that time. 

Joan: I wanted to know, did he have a little boy…12 year old with him? Couldn’t have been his little boy, could have been one of his nephews, because he had no family. 

Manpreet: Was it an Indian boy? 

Joan: Yeah, he was an Indian boy, yeah! We used to play with him. And I was about 10 or 12. We played cricket and ball…handballs…things like that, you know…and of course we tried to pull his turban off many times (laughing) but didn’t get it off…yeah….and we had Johnny cake…I still remember that. And I was talking to one of the men over there to see if it was him, with the little boy, I’m not sure.  Because I don’t know whether it was him, because there were several hawkers about at that time. 

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Studio: Perhaps the most significant memory is that of Avis Quarrell, since Pooran Singh gifted a seashell necklace to her mother Doris, 93 years ago. Pooran Singh threaded this necklace himself, and neither Avis nor her mother Doris ever wore it, as if it were a treasure of precious gems.

Avis: He used to sell at my grandfather’s place.  My mother was adopted into the family but Pooran Singh always called her Ned’s girl. And because he stayed there and he accepted the hospitality and that…he grew to be very good friends with my grandfather. And he wanted to do something to thank him and he said ‘this is for Ned’s girl’. And at 17 he handed her the necklace, and that’s where it’s been ever since. My mother had it from the time she was 17 till she died at 69, and I’ve had it since then.  So I’ve had it 41 years and it’s now 93 years old. It’s beautiful….well, there are 300 shells, and they are very tiny. It’s so fragile, it’s never been broken or worn – my mother never wore it, I’ve never worn it. It’s just a very precious piece of, you could hardly call it jewellery even though it’s a necklace, but to me it’s very precious. 

A necklace made with seashells, which Warrnambool resident Avis Quarrel believes was hand made by Pooran Singh and gifted to her
A necklace made with seashells, which Warrnambool resident Avis Quarrel believes was hand made by Pooran Singh and gifted to her
SBS Punjabi

Studio: Avis wrote a poem in the memory of Pooran Singh, nearly three decades ago, which she read during the ashes handover ceremony. So, she was very emotional during the ceremony, but like others, she was extremely happy too, that after all these decades, Pooran was finally going home, to be with his loved ones. 

Avis: If I was to die and be buried too far away from my family, I would be broken-hearted. And to think that Pooran Singh is now going back to his forefathers, back to his homeland, I think it’s perfect…I think it’s a completion and that’s where you need to be, with your family. 

Studio: So you heard all the different emotions that were on display that day. Listening to the stories of John Moore, Joan McCain and Avis Quarrell, don’t you feel that history books paint such an inadequate picture? History tells us that the White Australia policy was enforced in Australia during the 20th century. A layperson would get the impression that average Australians were unfriendly, unwelcoming or even racist. But real stories from real people belie this false impression that history books create, and present an image of harmony and coexistence.

Kapil Dev at the ashes handover ceremony in Warrnambool in July 2010
Kapil Dev at the ashes handover ceremony in Warrnambool in July 2010
SBS Punjabi

Greg Wood: Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome Mr Kapil Dev, Indian cricket legend and successful businessman…..(Applause

Kapil: Good afternoon, Sat Sri Akal ji….I thought, everybody is talking in such a high English, and most of the community is Punjabi, so I would like to speak something in Punjabi too. It’s really nice, lovely to be here. We are here today for a celebration. We’re not sad here, we’re happy. All of us…we have to have a smile. Because of Pooran Singh ji, we all have come here and he’s the one who made his name in this part of the world. I want to say, when I come to know this story from Manpreet talking to me, in Delhi back home, and she said this is what has happened, perhaps I’m a little more emotional….I said, if somebody’s wish you have to fulfil, I don’t mind doing it! And she said to me, there she’s sitting, smiling; she said are you sure? I said, yeah, what’s the big deal about that? And I still feel it’s not a big deal if you can fulfil somebody’s last wish. And that’s how it’s all come about. But when I come to know about the history about all these things, I never knew Indian people left their home, come here to make a better life, they were hawkers, I honestly did not know. I didn’t know anything about this history – nothing!!! But today, I’m proud. I’m proud that I’m more educated towards that.  I want to thank a few people in this.  First of all, the Guyett family…it’s a different type of celebration today… they are two brother and sister who own this entire business.  For them, I’d like to say, they are the ones who kept it, their family, your father and everybody (applause).  Not only these people who are standing here, but even back home, those who are reading this story, we are ever grateful to you, you’ve done a wonderful job for our community, for our country, thank you. I couldn’t believe – how can somebody keep somebody’s ashes for 63 years? Before I was born even. It’s amazing – very easy to say it, but if you look back, I think it’s an unbelievable story. One of the best emotional stories with a happy ending. I’m really happy, very pleased. Even more pleased to see that all of you have come from Melbourne and this part of the world.  You’ve come, you’ve accorded respect, brought glory to your community, you’ve done really well…Balle Balle, Wah Wah!! It’s really wonderful (applause).  I represent today my country and I’m really grateful you’ve done a story that will touch many many people’s hearts.  Finally, now I’ll speak in Punjabi… for those of our people who have come from Melbourne. I’m so happy that you’ve come here for your community elder. You’re giving so much respect… This is what community service is all about. This is a significant statement to make that we want to live here together, in harmony, and make our life meaningful. And, local people here, I think we’re ever grateful they kept the history – so fantastic. Not only the Guyett family, but all the people around – they’ve still kept the cart there and remember all the great stories about this beautiful place. I’m here only because I like to see the differences, that occurred in 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 happy in this world, and we need each other’s support. I’d like to mention here to the media – you have a great power to put things together. You can do a wonderful job. I think positive stories have more meaning than the negative news. 2% negative people cannot run our lives – 98% positive people are here to make a better world. They can change the world. And we are all together (applause).  Thank you once again. You’ve given me the opportunity to be a part of this lovely ceremony. So this is a happy time - I’m an emotional person, I’ve cried during this story many times. But today, we all will have to smile, we have to go with a happy mood… Thank you Pooran Singh ji, you’ve made us proud. (Applause)

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