Attari Border (Punjab): A bald man blinked at the dozens of TV microphones shoved at his face, thanked everybody and embraced his childhood friend. After 35 years in Pakistani jails, Kashmir Singh returned to India Tuesday.
A handful of relatives and a few more fellow villagers gathered - flowers in hand - at this border check-post between India and Pakistan. The atmosphere was charged with emotion as Kashmir Singh touched home soil Tuesday - marking the end to an ordeal that literally took him to the gallows and made him wait 35 years for freedom and to see his family.
Indian ''spy'', former policeman and soldier Kashmir Singh reunited with his ageing wife and other family members after languishing in Pakistani jails for nearly 35 years.
A teary eyed Singh, who was seen off Tuesday at 12.40 p.m. by Pakistan''s caretaker human rights minister Ansar Burney amidst clapping from scores of people at the Wagah border on the Pakistan side, was greeted on the Indian side by Punjab minister Bikram Singh Majitha and Hoshiarpur MP Avinash Rai Khanna.
Burney had secured his release after meeting him by accident in a Lahore jail.
Kashmir Singh waved back at his Pakistani friends as he crossed the zero line here.
Childhood friend G.C. Bhardwaj was among the first ones to meet and embrace him even before Singh re-united with his family inside the conference hall of the Border Security Force (BSF) complex here.
After meeting his family briefly, security agencies took the septuagenarian Kashmir Singh away for de-briefing.
For wife Paramjit Kaur, 65, the wait at this border post for the last three days had seemed as long as that of the last 35 years. The family had got the news of Kashmir Singh''s release last week and reached here Saturday to welcome him.
However, they had to return from here to Amritsar city, 30 km away, every evening, as Kashmir Singh''s release and arrival at the border were delayed. The formalities for his release and return had to be completed.
"Sadda banda sadde kol aa gaya, saanu badi khushi haigi. Asi Pakistani mantra (Ansar Burney) de bade shukarguzr haan ke unhane eh mumkin kitta," an emotional Paramjit Kaur said. (We have got our man back, we are very happy about it. We are thankful to the Pakistani minister for making his release possible.)
"We had lost all hope of his return. At one stage, we presumed him dead also. We are so happy that he is returning to his family and grandchildren," said Kashmir Singh''s 40-year-old son Shishpal.
Shishpal was only five years old when his father went missing in Pakistan. His brother and sister, both settled in Italy, will be returning home this week to meet their father.
Both sides of this border post saw frenzied media activity, with Kashmir Singh''s release being seen as symbolic of the current bonhomie between India and Pakistan.
Such a release has never happened before and has rekindled hopes among scores of other families in India whose relatives are still lodged in Pakistani jails. Nearly 2,000 Indians are believed to be languishing in Pakistani jails presently.
Similarly, one of the last questions a Pakistani journalist asked Kashmir Singh before he crossed over was: "Will you ask for Pakistani prisoners in India to be returned?"
"Yes," he replied.
Kashmir Singh had once been sentenced to death on a spying charge and had been in Lahore jail''s death row when Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf pardoned him on a plea from Burney, a leading human rights activist.
"It is great to have him back after his ordeal. Our efforts paid off in the end. I have played football and other games with him in the village. I hope he can recall that," said fellow-villager and now Chandigarh-based journalist G.C. Bhardwaj as he waited at the border to receive Singh.
Dalbir Kaur, the sister of Sarabjit Singh, another Indian sentenced to death in Pakistan, was also present when Kashmir Singh arrived here.