He was nearly four when his grandfather took him to Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar, along with his uncle on April 13, 1919. It was Baisakhi, an important festival for Sikhs. What followed has been etched in history. The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre saw hundreds dead as the then English General Dyre ordered fire at an unarmed gathering of men, women and children. Today Bharpur Singh, 96, is probably the only, or one of a few survivors whose active life in the community has inspired many.
Singh’s memory of the massacre was jumping over the mud huts, at the back of the Bagh, along with his grandfather to save their lives. His uncle fractured his arm and eventually became disabled because of lack of access to medical facilities. “Because the Congress was using the occasion to address people, those who got injured could not go to the doctor for fear of being arrested, and the subsequent repression by the British” says Singh. His uncle remained a grim reminder to the massacre. On the 90th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre held in Punjab in 2009, Singh specially went to India to participate in the annual memorial function and was interviewed by BBC for a documentary titled "Gandhi- The Rise to Fame".
For a man whose life gives us a clear historical spread over nearly a century – having seen the struggles for Independence, the second world war, an independent India and migration to Australia, his life is full of many interesting tales. He saw humanity suffering on both sides – India and Pakistan as a result of partition – and laments that while leaders of both countries were rejoicing, the common people were being slaughtered and displaced from their homes, and were struggling to come to terms with a new reality. “In Punjab, Bengal, and many other places the humans' lives, livelihood and properties were destroyed,” he says. He himself suffered loss, having been posted in Lahore just before the partition, as he fled for his safety towards India with nothing on him, but a severe trauma.
“I have seen so many things in life,” he reminisces. “I was born in 1915. Jallianwala massacre happened in 1919. Then followed Gurudwara Sudhar movement in the whole of Punjab. There were also communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in Amritsar during 1920s. These riots drove a wedge between the two communities and segregated them." Singh recalls the start of World War II in 1939 and its effect on India, the Indian economy and industrialisation as well as the "Quit India" movement of Gandhi.
After completing his studies, Singh began his career working for a British firm in an administrative job. Later, in 1936, he was selected in a competition to join government service in Lahore, Punjab (now in Pakistan). That gave him an opportunity to travel extensively to places such as Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi etc . When Sir Radcliffe was working on the nitty gritty of boundary division between India and Pakistan, Singh was part of the data collection team at the district level in Punjab.
After his retirement from government service in 1973, Singh moved to his home town Amritsar, where he involved himself in religious studies. He actively organised and participated in religious activities. In 1985, after the Blue Star Operation, he migrated to Australia to join his son. Ever since then he has been active in social life as well as helping the Sikh community in their religious organisations. In 1999, the Sikh Welfare Council held a seniors' night where Singh was recognised as the 'oldest person'.
Singh is one of the founding members of the Indian Senior Citizens Association eastern suburbs. He is now working in a team towards forming an Indian Seniors Association for the western suburbs of Melbourne. Being a member of St. Albans Senior Citizen club he actively interacts and participates in the general Australian Community groups.
At 96, Singh continues to read, write articles for publication and fulfilling social obligations. He continues to keep pace with modern technology. He uses his iPod and MP3 players for listening to devotional music, songs and the Gurbani. He is easy with mobile phones, computers, assessing emails, surfing and researching the net and so on.
Asked what the secret to his long life and good health is, he quips, “I am a man with no secrets. I live life on the 'right side' of the law.” He further explains, “There are two sets of laws - one made by man to govern the society; the other made by God to govern the Universe. If you observe those laws, God Almighty will always help you. This is what my religion and my Guru says.”
It is a dictum that seems to have played well in his life as he thanks Waheguru for His Blessings, and his children for looking after him well. He is blessed with 6 children, 16 grand children and 21 great- grand children. A rich man in, Singh’s words, is one who needs no more. Clearly, Singh is beyond rich – out and out.