RAJ WAS 10 when she first saw her father. Kabul Singh had returned home after years in a Pakistani jail, held there on charges of spying. The last time she saw him, he was dead, just this last February.
Singh had sold off a portion of his ancestral land to marry off Raj last year. With that done, he should have felt happy. He wasn’t. He had felt even more depressed. Life after return was a struggle. Singh tried looking for a suitable job, but there was nothing. He went to court against Research and Analysis Wing, the agency charged with external intelligence gathering.
He got an order instructing all concerned to settle his compensation with three months. Nothing happened. His mother Harbans Kaur says, “We did not receive anything from anyone.” Singh has left behind ageing parents Kashmir Singh and Harbans Kaur, wife Paramjit Kaur and his younger brother’s widow Parkash Kaur. And their children. There is no one to look after them now.
Singh was only 20 when an acquaintance from a neighbouring village pitched to him the high life of a spy. The young man was a matriculate but without a job then. This sounded good to him. This was in 1973. The job turned out just as glamourous. As part of the image makeover and training, he turned into a Muslim from a Sikh. He also acquired some expensive tastes.
“Noticing his lifestyle becoming a bit royal from clothing and brand of whiskies, I tried to ascertain the sources of his income. He revealed nothing,” says father Kashmir Singh. The old man, of course, suspected the worst. “I concluded he had fallen into bad company.” So, he did what parents in most parts of India do with wayward children? They got him married.
Kabul was, of course, not into bad company. His habits did not change one bit. In fact, he went missing for months soon after. For training, apparently. When he returned, his distraught parents would have none of his evasive replies. “I insisted,” recalls mother Harbans Kaur, adding, “I was shocked to know he was spying for the country.” They did not approve. They never could come to terms with his long disappearances. Every trip, his family says, he would promise was the last.
Kabul begged for his parents and young wife’s permission for every trip. The family never did find out what he did on his trips into Pakistan—he never spoke about the operations.
When he was getting ready for the last mission, his family begged with him to stay. He was about to become a father—Paramjit was expecting Raj. Kabul was committed.
He was arrested on this trip and tortured for nine months before he was packed off to Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore. The next the family heard of him was through a letter he wrote them in 1976. Kabul was alive at least. However, they were not to see him again until 1986, when he was freed. There was a new hope in the family, fresh expectations. The eldest son would return, they thought, take charge and change things for the family. But bad times were not about to leave the family. Unable to find a job, Kabul tried to use the ancestral land to grow something. So he got together with his younger brother Baljinder Singh tried to start off as an agriculturist.
This was yet another dead-end. Baljinder could not take the life of poverty any more and ended his life four years ago. Kabul soldiered on. Unsuccessfully, it would turn out. There were no signs of any help or assistance either from Kabul’s shadowy employers or the government; despite the court order.
On February 14, he killed himself by consuming poisonous pesticide at his village Havelian, 60 km from Amritsar. He was only 55.