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Pooran Singh's ashes reach India, making headlines around the world

Kapil Dev and Harmel Uppal at New Delhi airport, after collecting the ashes and flying from Melbourne on 27 July 2010 Source: Manpreet K Singh, SBS Punjabi

Continuing our audio documentary of Pooran Singh's final journey, here is part three of the series as broadcast on SBS Punjabi in August 2010.

To read and know more about Pooran Singh's final journey, click on the link below. 

Read the full transcript of part 3 of the audio documentary:

Studio: So the atmosphere was not morose or sad, in fact, it was that of a celebration. Of harmony and goodwill – a sentiment reflected in the prayers offered by the Sikh priest, Giani Harminder Singh.  

Priest (in prayer): As ordained by You, your follower Pooran Singh, passed away 63 years ago… To send his ashes back home to be immersed in the holy river, all the Sikhs of Victoria, all Punjabis and the whole Australian community is following Sikh tradition today and are gathered here. The family that has preserved these ashes for all these years is also here today and our brother Kapil Dev, taking the blessings of the whole congregation present here today, is now going to take the ashes back to India. Please give them your blessings, so that the journey that is beginning now maybe completed unobstructed.  Dear God, let there be goodwill, love and proximity between Indians and Australians in this country, may it continue to grow... 

Giani Harminder Singh offering the final prayers at the ceremony in Warrnambool
Giani Harminder Singh offering the final prayers at the ceremony in Warrnambool
SBS Punjabi

Studio voiceover: Sikhs, non-Sikhs, Punjabis, Indians and Australians…everyone participated in these special prayers, so that Pooran’s final journey could begin. We felt that perhaps when Pooran was alive, he would never have partaken of such a communal prayer or no such ceremony would have taken place for him, here in Australia. In fact, not just prayers, the Sikh community had even provided a traditional meal (langar) to the hundreds of people present in Warranmbool. 

Priest (end of prayer): “Bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”. 

Studio: Then, that moment arrived, for which all of us had been waiting for a long time. This is how Alice Guyett’s husband Greg Wood announced it. 

Greg: Ladies and gentlemen, I would now like to ask Mr Harmel Uppal and Mr Kapil Dev to come forward, so that my wife Alice Guyett can present the ashes of Pooran Singh ji, to Harmel for his final journey back to India. 

(The gathering – “Bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”) 

Music 

Studio: And so, with a multitude of emotions, Harmel Uppal and Kapil Dev accepted the ashes, just like a new mother holds her newborn child for the first time. The moment brought smiles as well as tears, but above all, it brought about a deep satisfaction that a milestone journey was about to begin. The next night, that of July 26, five people became the custodians of these ashes and left Melbourne for Kuala Lumpur, ultimately bound for New Delhi.  These five were Kapil Dev, Harmel Uppal, Len Kenna, Crystal Jordan and me. It must be pointed out here that none of this would have happened, if Len and Crystal hadn’t told us about Pooran ji’s ashes in the first instance. So I asked Len and Chris about this in the aircraft. 

(Sounds of the aircraft) 

Manpreet: Len and Chris, we are more than halfway through the journey that we began in Warrnambool. We’re now in Kuala Lumpur, sitting in the aircraft, ready to take off, going to India… How does it feel? 

Len: Oh it’s amazing – really amazing. I’m overwhelmed. 

Manpreet: Butterflies? 

Len: No, it’s more peaceful….I don’t know… tranquillity.  I’ve got a lot of different emotions running but this particular thing…. it’s just beautiful. 

Manpreet: Chris can you imagine that the one scrap of paper that you first saw, has led us to all of this? We’ve had a major celebration in Warrnambool and now we are all here, on our way to India…. 

Chris: I just can’t describe how it feels…it’s a very spiritual feeling in a way, because it’s quite a long time removed from when Pooran died and he wouldn’t believe how he’s going home. And I think that’s really amazing to think that the journey he took to Australia is actually much quicker going home. 

Len: There would have been thousands of Indians’ ashes returned, and the pleasure that would have brought their family, and their village and friends is just… you couldn’t gauge. And this is the first time this experience is going to be transported back, or the message is going to go back to Australia, and that in itself is fulfilling. 

Chris: I’m really happy about what’s happened – I really am, because I’ve got really attached to Pooran. Very attached. It’s exciting, but it’s a different sort of exciting...it’s satisfaction, that you can make somebody’s wish materialise 63 years later. 

Studio: Then I went to Harmel Uppal and talked to him too. 

Manpreet: Harmel ji, it’s pretty special that you’ve been charged to take your grand uncle’s ashes 63 years later. Is it all coming together, sinking in now that we’re in Kuala Lumpur? 

Harmel: Yes, yes, it’s very emotional and it all seems to be taking shape now, the closer we seem to be getting to the eventual goal. It seems as if the long journey is slowly coming to fulfil my Uncle’s wishes. I feel so privileged, not really seeing even my grandfather, and let alone my grand uncle, but there seems to be a part of our family which has been travelling in this journey. Often as we’ve come through this journey, I talk to him, when I eat he eats, everything that I do, I speak to him and communicate with him.  It’s as if I’m carrying someone, even though not in soul, but in spirit. 

Manpreet: So it’s almost like a living entity for you? 

Harmel: Yes yes, that’s right. 

Manpreet: And you were mentioning that you haven’t even seen your grandfather, so this means a lot to you… 

Harmel: Oh yes it means a lot to all of us – to all our family. I can’t say how privileged I am to be carrying this duty through. 

Manpreet: That’s wonderful, I’ll touch base with you in Delhi. Safe flight, eat for yourself and for Pooran ji. 

Harmel: I will do…thank you very much. 

Harmel holding on to the box with his great Uncle's ashes, as Kapil Dev and Alice Guyett-Wood look on
An emotional Harmel holds on to the box with his great Uncle's ashes, as Kapil Dev and Alice Guyett-Wood look on
SBS Punjabi

Studio: Talking to Harmel, I realised that one’s blood and bones can generate a unique bond beyond generations. Harmel didn’t seem to think that he was carrying some lifeless ashes – to him, it was like travelling with his own grand uncle! This journey was a milestone for Crystal as well, since her own grandfather was an officer in the British Indian army, when India was still a British colony, and her father was actually born in India – a country she had never seen before. So alongside Pooran’s final journey, she was travelling on her personal journey too, looking for traces of her own family history in India. Then I thought I should ask Kapil ji about his feelings at this point in our journey. 

(In flight sounds) 

Manpreet: Kapil ji, we’ll be landing in Delhi soon. You began a journey yourself in Warrnambool to bring Pooran ji home…we are now in the aircraft, with his ashes, about to touch India....how do you feel? 

Kapil: It’s a strange feeling…I don’t think there are any words to describe it. It’s not a cricket oval or a playground…just a strange feeling. I’m feeling really good that someone’s wish is about to come true. I think this is a unique story…good and different. 

Manpreet: I was just pondering that when Pooran ji first came to Australia, 111 years ago, he definitely would have taken a ship and come by sea, since there were no airplanes back then. Yet today, when he is returning to his homeland in an aircraft – isn’t it unusual to think of it like that? 

Kapil: Yes of course, we’ve seen a sea change in our world. Life today is dramatically different to what it was back then. Our world has progressed so much in the last 30-40 years, who could have imagined that you could be interviewing someone with a microphone in an aircraft? I can’t say where this will lead us all to, but what I can certainly say is that Pooran Singh ji’s ashes are now going back home. And it’s a noble cause – it’s a wonderful gesture for everyone. I have to repeat that the Guyett family deserves a lot of credit for preserving these ashes for such a long time – it’s a big ask for anyone. And then, we saw so many things connected to Pooran ji and heard all the other small stories and anecdotes about him in Warrnambool – I’m amazed that his presence is still felt in that city, even a hundred years after he arrived there. It makes you feel really good that an ordinary man went there, carved his own identity there, and left a great impression about himself and his country. 

Manpreet: You mentioned that you were touched by the humanity displayed by the Guyett family. But your generosity and humanity has also touched a lot of people. Your involvement with this story has literally taken it to a completely different level.  Did you expect the Australian media to respond to you as warmly as they did? 

Kapil: I didn’t know what to expect since I had read a lot of negative stories about Indians in Australia over the last one year or so…. A lot of unsavoury stories, so I didn’t know how the media would react. But I didn’t come to Australia for the media, I came in response to my own personal feelings. But I was really heartened to see that all media organisations of Australia came together and paid a wonderful tribute to Pooran Singh – it isn’t an easy thing to do and I think you all did a wonderful job. 

Manpreet: During the last few weeks, ever since you’ve been involved with this story, the extended family of Pooran Singh in India has kept in regular touch with you too. Do you know what their plans are? 

Kapil: Oh, they would like me to come to their village, and participate in the rest of the ceremonies in India. But I have only requested them one thing – yes I’m an Indian, and hence I have a relationship with them, but I’m not actually related to the family. Now that all of their family members have come together, it is befitting that the family takes over the responsibility and performs the last rites as per tradition. My wishes will always be with them. I’m glad that you’ve taken the pains to bring the family together – I would now like to see the family grow together and flourish from here on. 

Music 

A media scrum awaits the arrival of Pooran's ashes in India
A media scrum awaits the arrival of Pooran's ashes in India
Supplied

Studio: So, amidst these conversations, we arrived at New Delhi on the night on July 27. The flight landed half an hour early, as if Pooran ji was so eager to touch his motherland, that he just couldn’t wait any longer and willed the aircraft to land before schedule. It seemed as if the Indian media too couldn’t wait any longer to greet him – a large possie of journalists awaited our arrival. All of us had done many media interviews for various Australian media outlets in the past few days, and despite an election campaign in the country, most major newspapers, television channels and radio outlets had covered the Pooran story. In fact when we were passing through the immigration counter at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport, even the Immigration officer seemed to know about Pooran when he asked me, “So, you’re taking the ashes to India today, are you?” At my surprised look he just said, “Oh, I read about it in today’s newspaper”. So, just like the Australian media had really warmed to Pooran’s story, his final journey home had attracted a major Indian media scrum at Delhi airport. 

(Media scrum) 

Harmel: Fantastic feeling…it’s like making contact with someone you’ve never seen, but it looks like he’s been with all of us, through the whole journey. So every moment we lived, every moment we ate, everything we’ve done, he was with us. And to see all these people do such a great job, to see this through for us, it’s just a fantastic effort by everyone concerned.

Len: It’s an amazing feeling, because over the years Chris and I have found records of Indian hawkers in Victoria and they’ve always said that “the ashes were sent back to India to be spread on the Ganges”, and now I’m part of it. 

Kapil: I think it was a great experience for me because that man, Pooran Singh ji, had left a great impact in that area. Even after so many years, people remembered him and talked about him.  It was the complete antithesis of what you read in the newspapers today – that there is violence, that Indians are being targeted…it was nothing like that. There was a great feeling of communal harmony, unity and bonding. It was wonderful to see the tremendous respect that each community had for the other and I enjoyed every moment of it. I feel, something really unique happened there, something completely unexpected – cricket is a different ball game, this was unique and very emotional. 

Reporter: You have lifted the World Cup trophy for India in 1983, you’ve carried the baton for the Commonwealth Games for India many times, how will you compare carrying the ashes to all those experiences? 

Kapil: There is no comparison between these things. What I’ve just witnessed in Australia is an example of brotherhood and respectful coexistence. Here in India, we had only been hearing of violence against our people in Australia. But I’m really happy that I was part of a positive story from there and I’m very pleased that someone’s last wish has now been fulfilled. 

Music 

Studio: After this, we stopped in Delhi overnight, and the next morning, we hired a car to take us to Jalandhar, by road. 

Music

 

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