Pooran Singh Goes Home (from Sikh Chic)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Pooran Singh Goes Home


The final leg of the amazing journey of a simple Sikh-Australian man has just begun - but there is nothing simple or ordinary about Pooran Singh's journey itself. It encompasses three centuries, has brought people from various cultures, backgrounds, cities and indeed, three different continents together; it has united two families, one in country Victoria and another in rural Punjab in an unusual familial bond, even inspiring an international sporting superstar to fly in especially from the subcontinent to fulfil a long dead man's final wish.

This is the Pooran Singh phenomenon, which saw nearly 300 people from the Sikh-Aussie community in Melbourne converging at Warrnambool, joining many locals, the Guyett family (of Guyetts Funerals), Harmel Singh Uppal (the grand nephew of Pooran Singh, who flew in from Wolverhampton, UK) and extraordinarily, cricket legend Kapil Dev, to accord the ashes of Pooran Singh a grand send off from the Warrnambool cemetery.

If you haven't caught up with the background of this story yet, Pooran Singh was a young 30 year old Sikh man who migrated from India to Australia in 1899, lived and worked in country Victoria as a hawker for a better part of five decades, and died in Warrnambool aged 77. He was cremated in Melbourne on June 10, 1947 and his ashes have been preserved by three generations of the Guyetts family, in deference to Pooran's wish that his ashes be sent back to the subcontinent.

After this story was initially broadcast on SBS Radio's Punjabi program on June 24, 2010, an amazing chain reaction led to the ashes handover ceremony at the Warrnambool cemetery on Sunday, July 25, when Alice Guyett Wood and her brother Brian handed the ashes they had preserved for 63 years, to Kapil Dev and Harmel Singh Uppal, in the presence of the hundreds of people gathered there.

The ceremony was warm, dignified and emotional, but everyone had an unmistakable feeling that what they were witnessing was unique, even historic.

The ceremony attracted widespread media attention, in Punjab, India and Australia, and even as we drove back from Warrnambool to Melbourne, strangers called in with their personal memories of Pooran Singh, some providing new photos, and others with anecdotes - more evidence that Sikhs and other Australians have shared a special relationship for many generations, that the warmth and deep emotional bonds simple Sikh-Aussie hawkers shared with other local Australians transcended all barriers of colour, creed, nationality or any other difference.

It occurred to me that history does great injustice to society by only recording cold facts; by chronicling disasters / accidents and not acts of decency, love and friendship that occur in day to day living. History books only tell us that the White Australia policy was enforced in Victoria in 1901, but don't offer any insight into the personal bonds that existed between locals and migrants - and amazingly, the story of Pooran Singh has given us a chance to rectify that.

Fortunately, we can also attempt to rectify the image of Australia which have been much maligned and tested in recent times. While the respect and humanity of the Guyett family has "humanized" history for us, the personal anecdotes shared by Avis Quarrell, Moore family, Ben Whitham and others have "personalized" it and undoubtedly, the generosity and human spirit displayed by Kapil Dev has truly "internationalized" it, jointly creating a repository of goodwill that can drive Australia - Punjab relationship from hereon.

Early this morning, Kapil Dev, Harmel Singh Uppal, historian Len Kenna, his research partner Crystal Jordan and I have boarded a flight from Melbourne, bound to India, with the ashes. All of us feel privileged that we are joining Pooran Singh on his final journey home - a journey he began alone in the 19th century, and now in its final leg, he is accompanied by an international celebrity, a member of his extended family from the UK, two historians from Australia, and a radio journalist who was born almost a century after him, in the same city that he came from - Jalandhar, Punjab!



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