This time he vowed not to return to England where he had been living for the past 50 years. Thirteen days after celebrating his 111th birthday on June 8, however, Europe’s oldest man, Nazar Singh Gill, passed away at his native village of Fazalpur – around 35 km from Jalandhar – on June 21. His body has been kept at the mortuary at the Nakodar civil hospital and the cremation will take place on Wednesday morning after all his blood relatives reach here.
For his children, Nazar Singh’s passing is an opportunity to celebrate his life.
“He went so peacefully, as if he had just fallen asleep. We miss him a lot but we want to celebrate his death as we are very lucky that he could live to an age which is beyond anyone’s dreams these days,” said his eldest son Kartar Singh Gill (71), a numberdar (village headman) at Fazalpur.
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While he did not possess a birth certificate, according to his passport, Nazar Singh was born on June 8, 1904, at Gill village in Jalandhar district.
He shifted to nearby Fazalpur village in 1963 after buying agricultural land there.
In 1967, at the age of 63, the farmer, who had never been to school, went to the UK to join his eldest daughter Resham Kaur (now 79) at Walsall in the West Midlands. He began working in a foundry as a labourer. His wife, Naranjan Kaur, and three sons joined him in 1969. After working for around 18-20 years, he settled down in Sunderland in 1989.
“He and I were supposed to go to the UK in the first week of June but he refused and said that he wanted to stay here for some time more. Perhaps he wanted to leave this world at his native place as my mother had also died here 11 years ago during her visit to Punjab,” Kartar Singh said.
With nine children (three daughters and six sons), 34 grandchildren and 63 great-grandchildren,
Nazar Singh was always surrounded by family, his elder son said. “I have got a good family behind me and I wouldn’t have lasted this long if they hadn’t looked after me,” Kartar quoted his father as having said. The great-grandfather had travelled to Punjab on January 25 this year to spend time with his two oldest sons, Kartar Singh and Sohan Singh.
His family credits his longevity to his happy-go-lucky attitude and a daily dose of Dabra – a traditional Punjabi dish with generous amounts of almonds, walnuts, pistachios, dry dates, cashew nuts, sugar – almond oil and a peg of whisky.
“Irrespective of the weather, he would take Dabra, drink milk and almond oil regularly and had a small drink of whisky after his meal,” Kartar Singh said, adding that his father had his daily peg till a day before his death. “We were very lucky to have a healthy father like him. He set an example for us to eat well and not smoke,” Kartar added.
On the day of his death, Kartar said, Nazar felt restless in the morning and looked like he suffered a minor cardiac arrest. Despite the family insisting, the great grandfather refused to go to hospital before passing away at 12:15 am.
At Fazalpur, Nazar preferred living on the first floor. A small room with a bed, two almirahs, a small television set, a cherry colour refrigerator, his stick, walker and a ‘tagwa’ ( axe-like weapon) were still intact in the room. “He used to climb stairs of his own without anyone’s support till the end of his life,” said another son Sohan Singh (69).
“After seeing over a century he had started praying, urging god to take him now as the death of one his grandsons and a grand daughter-in-law was a major set back for him,” said Kartar Singh. “We want to decorate the hearse during his last journey to cremation ground,” he added.
Four of his sons and two daughters live abroad. All his sons have 45 acres land and palatial houses in all the four corners of Fazalpur village. “We all are well settled and all credit goes to my father,” said Kartar Singh.