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Kashmir Singh savours the sight of green fields

After languishing in many Pakistani jails for nearly 35 years, Kashmir Singh is in a hurry to make up for the lost time, savouring every moment like relishing the changed village landscape covered with green wheat fields.
IANS | By HT Correspondent, Hoshiarpur
UPDATED ON MAR 17, 2008 03:07 PM IST

The atmosphere is still charged in Kashmir Singh's house. His eldest son has not yet put the cap back on the whisky bottle opened to celebrate his father's release from a Pakistani jail early this month.

After languishing in many Pakistani jails for nearly 35 years, Kashmir Singh is now savouring every moment of his freedom - greeting visitors, hugging friends and answering phone calls of well wishers in his modest house at Nangal Choran village in Punjab.

"I was arrested on the 22nd milestone on the Peshawar-Rawalpindi road by Pakistani authorities," says Kashmir Singh as he gorges on fried potato paranthas cooked by wife Paramjit.

"Let me finish my breakfast and I'll share everything with you," he says, calling out for another parantha and some yoghurt.

"Will you have breakfast?" he asks. The years behind the bars have not rusted his sense of hospitality.

"Jannab (sir) you can't understand what it feels to be free after 35 years in jail. God has been kind - at least I can die in my own country," adds the 67-year-old.

Words fail him as he tries to make one see what freedom means to him. "The size of my cell was 7x7 feet only."

"Thirty five years is a lifetime," he says. "I was in solitary confinement for over 17 years, chained from chest to feet."

"You see my ankles," he says, raising his pyjamas to show the permanent bruises and swelling bearing testimony to his tales.

Then all of a sudden he changes the topic as if he is in a hurry to make up for the lost time. "Look at the green wheat fields around," he says.

"The whole village landscape has changed. There's more prosperity. You can see that from the cement houses," he said. "The village well has also shifted."

There are moments when he still cannot believe that all of this is true. "Past life haunts me and at times it gets difficult for me to believe that I'm absolutely free to do whatever I want to, go wherever I feel like and meet anybody of my choice.

"I am very grateful to Hoshiarpur Member of Parliament Avinash Rai Khanna and Ansar Burney, Pakistan human rights minister, for taking notice of my family's and my plight," said Kashmir.

But all the joy and gratitude cannot hide the bitterness in the man. "I have dedicated my life to the nation, and what have I got in return?" he asks.

"Thirty-five years of prison life? There was no one to take care of my family in my absence, my second son Sishpal got polio," says Kashmir, lashing out at the authorities for letting him down.

Sishpal, sitting silently sitting next to him, comforts his father by chanting - "whatever happens, happens for the good".

"Let us look ahead," says Shishpal, holding his father's hand.

"What else do you want to know?" asks Kashmir, by now experienced in tackling the media.

"Let Paramjit take care of the guests now."

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