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Kashmir Singh comes home after 35 yrs

Kashmir Singh returns home to a different life, a different world than the one he left one day in 1973, reports Kuldeep Mann.
Hindustan Times | By Kuldeep Mann, Attari
UPDATED ON MAR 05, 2008 01:12 AM IST

Kashmir Singh returned home to a different life, a different world than the one he left one day in 1973. "It's another birth for me," he said after crossing over to India.

His wife, Paramjit Kaur, who prayed twice every day for his return, couldn't believe her eyes, which brimmed with tears. As the two hugged, a hush fell over the Wagah border, where Kashmir was brought from Lahore jail.

Paramjit stepped back after a bit, wiped her tears and pulled to the front a young man. Eh tuhada nikka puttar je (He is your youngest son), she introduced the father to his youngest son.

Shishpal Singh was only four when his father went missing, and Kashmir 26. He had gone to Rawalpindi on a business trip, he dealt in electronic goods. He was arrested as a spy and shortly after, sentenced to death.

Back home in Hoshiarpur, his young wife and family worried, then despaired and finally, gave up all hopes of his return. Almost. Only Paramjit held on to her hopes, praying hard for his return.

Then news came in 1986 of him being in a Lahore jail. Pakistan had then released some Indians it had kept in jail accusing them of spying.

So, now, the family knew Kashmir was alive, but was on death row. Paramjit would say later, "That was the gloomiest day of my life." Till then there was hope of his return some day. That looked like slipping away now.

But Paramjit didn't stop praying. And got her husband back.

The family stood around on the Indian side of the Wagah border near Amritsar watching a man walk across slowly. Taking his time. He looked nothing like the Kashmir Singh they had last seen.

This Kashmir was almost bald and had a long beard. But he looked fit.

He was released from Lahore jail on Monday and arrived at the border with Pakistan's human rights minister Ansar Burney, who tracked him down in Lahore jail and secured his pardon from President Pervez Musharraf.

"Confined in a dingy room," said Kashmir, "I had abandoned all hopes of freedom till the Minister paid us a visit and gave me assurance he would everything he could to secure my freedom."

Kashmir couldn't thank him enough, of course. But very quickly he was ready to move on. No bitterness, no one to blame and no one to curse. He said he just wanted to put everything behind him and move on.

There is a lot to be done. First, a family member told Hindustan Times, Kashmir will be taken to a Gurudwara, where his conversion to Islam will be undone. "This must happen before he returns home," he said.

And then he had a lot of catching up to do: meet relatives, friends and acquaintances. He asked Paramjit about a few people and was shocked to know some of them were no more.

A lot of time has passed. And the world has changed. A Pakistani journalist told the Hindustan Times, "He was surprised when we gave him a mobile phone in Lahore so that he could speak to his wife."

That's just one of the things Kashmir will have to deal with.

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