From Pakistan to Paris in Punjab, Kashmir takes in his new life

March 7th, 2008 - 1:04 pm ICT by admin  

By Jaideep Sarin
Nangal Choran (Punjab), March 7 (IANS) Marking the days in a dark cell, time may have stood still for Kashmir Singh - but life has moved on. The former soldier who has just returned home after 35 years in a Pakistan prison is coming to terms not only with his children, now grown up, his wife, now wizened with age, but also his village that he says excitedly has become like Paris. From Pakistan to a ‘Paris’ in the Indian Punjab, Kashmir Singh, who was released Wednesday after having been condemned to solitary confinement for 35 years as an Indian spy, is awkwardly dealing with the hordes of people around him - perhaps longing for a solitary moment to absorb the tumultuous turn his life has taken.

“Mera pind taan Paris ho gaya hai (My village has turned into Paris),” he says with child-like excitement while sitting in the comfort of his new-found freedom, family and friends in his village in Nangal Choran in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district, 140 km from the capital Chandigarh.

When he left his village one Sunday in 1973 to enter Pakistan as a spy under the assumed name of Ibrahim, he never thought that he would be away for so long.

In the intervening years, his ‘kuchha’ (mud) home has been replaced by a four-room concrete and bricks structure. Two of his children, a son and a daughter, are now settled in Italy - thanks to the NRI exodus bandwagon in this Doaba belt of Punjab.

His son Amarjit arrived from Italy Thursday and has not corked his liquor bottle ever since to celebrate his father’s ‘rebirth’. At times, under the influence of liquor, he says the media and others should leave, asking where they were in the last 35 years when the family was suffering.

Other family members, including his physically challenged brother Shishpal, have to calm him down.

The balding but bearded Singh, who still does not sport a turban despite being a Sikh by religion, contradicts all theories that he converted to Islam to survive in Pakistan.

“I never converted to Islam. I don’t know from where all this is coming. Of course, as a spy, I went to Pakistan under a Muslim name and religion. That is all. On return, I wanted to wear a pant-shirt or a suit instead of the normal pathani-suit not to give an impression that I converted,” he clarifies.

Singh shed his Ibrahim name only this week when the Indian embassy in Islamabad prepared his travel documents by the name of Kashmir Singh.

But the three-and-a-half decades have given him the language and accent used in Pakistan. His vocabulary is mostly Urdu-Punjabi. So hearing him address his wife as “begum” or saying things like “woh toh Allah ko pyara ho gaya” is not uncommon.

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