HADALI (Khushab): A son returned to the soil on Tuesday after 99 years.
A fistful of ashes of legendary writer Khushwant Singh were placed at his school in Hadali, 12km from Khushab city.
Noted Pakistani writer Fakir Syed Aijazuddin had brought the ashes from India to honour the great man’s desire to be “reunited with his roots”.
He placed the ashes in a wall niche at the Government Boys High School, Hadali, where Singh was enrolled as a child. The niche was then covered by a marble plaque which read: “This is where my roots are. I have nourished them with tears of nostalgia.”
In the excited crowd gathered for the ceremony were the headmaster and teachers of the school who had met Mr Singh on his visit to Hadali in 1987.
“A large number of Hadalians turned up in 1987 to welcome Khushwant Singh at his hometown. He addressed us and said ‘as you people go on pilgrimage to Makkah and Madina, coming back to Hadali at the time of Maghreb of my life is my Haj and my Umrah’,” Muhammad Farooq Rana, the headmaster of the school, recalled while talking to Dawn.
The headmaster told a group of students inquisitively looking at the plaque: “Mr Singh was a member of the alumni who rose to fame for his writings. He was also the promoter of peace between India and Pakistan.”
Born in 1915 in Hadali, Khushwant Singh, perhaps India’s most widely read and controversial writer, died on March 20.
Singh was witness to all major events in modern Indian history — from independence and partition to the emergency and Operation Blue Star — and had known many of the figures who shaped it.
It was reported after his death that “a fistful of his ashes had been saved by his family to be taken to Pakistan where an unnamed friend wanted to put them in the ground where he was born”.
After Singh’s death, his son was quoted as saying that condolence messages had kept coming from Pakistan. “I have got a lot of phone calls from people in Pakistan, many of whom I don’t know at all. They had come here and met my dad.
“So we kept some ashes. He will be coming to India and he will take those ashes back,” he said, without revealing the identity of Singh’s Pakistani friend.
That man has turned out to be Fakir Aijazuddin, well known for writings, mainly on history and culture.
“Mr Singh has as many admirers in Pakistan as he does in India. Perhaps this was another reason for his deep attachment to Pakistan and his origin,” Mr Aijazuddin told Dawn after the ceremony.
“When I met Khushwant Singh in Delhi on March 4 this year he expressed a wish to be buried in Hadali. His family agreed to make available a fistful of ashes which I then brought to Pakistan.
“While installing the marble plaque I felt Khushwant Singh’s invisible presence. It was almost as if he had crossed the border with me to be present at Hadali.”