Have Bicycle & 21 Rupees MOHSIN ABBAS
Every year a large number of Sikhs enthusiastically come from Canada to visit the ancestral homeland they lost to Pakistan during the Partition of Punjab in 1947..
Ragbir Singh, born in Pindi Lala village situated in Tehsil Phalia, then in the district of Gujrat (now in Pakistan’s side of Punjab), shares a similar story. After riding across the world on a bicycle, campaigning for peace and environmental issues, he settled in Canada in 1975.
When I went to meet him in Brampton, Ontario, he happily shared his experience of the journey and narrated that he was five years old at the time of the Partition of Punjab and that he still missed a brook situated behind his home.
When I entered the household library of this man who had traveled the world on a bicycle with only Rs.21 in his pocket and lots of confidence in himself, his eyes glimmered as he told me that Lala Pindi was stated as his place of birth on his Indian passport.
During his travels, people showed support for Raghbir Singh by ringing a bell he had made out of spent bullet casings, used in the Vietnam War.
He had been a part of the military and had also been a Prisoner of War (PoW) in Vietnam. He said that people showed him so much respect that it made him forget about his daily woes.
While traveling, Raghbir Singh would earn a quick buck by teaching people how to tie a turban and also managed to receive recognition in the print and electronic media. He said that his bicycle broke down several times while traveling and he changed 68 tyres during his 93,000-mile journey.
He did, however, express his disappointment at not being granted a visa for Pakistan during his around-the-world trip.
“The officer who rejected my visa also belonged to Pakistani Gujrat. I did not like his rejection of my visa,” he said.
Raghbir Singh finally visited Pakistan a few years ago on his Canadian passport and brought back a cup of his native soil which he showed with great nostalgia.
He maintained that Pakistan was his real home country and that he missed his native village a lot.
A keeper of the Holy Quran and other religious books from a variety of faiths in his home, Raghbir Singh termed his harmony and cooperation with the Pakistanis as a blessing.
He disclosed that the secret to his happy life was living in harmony with people. Even now he maintains correspondence with several people he had met while traveling.
Raghbir runs a business in Brampton along with his wife. He can converse in nine languages and remembers Urdu as well. He also proclaims Pakistani singer Abrar ul Haq his favourite.
He also sheepishly admitted in front of his jovial wife that seven women had proposed to him for marriage during his journey.
His passport mentions his profession as a traveler.
While traveling through Tahiti, where the French government was experimenting with nuclear weapons, Raghbir Singh wrote “Ban the bomb” on his bicycle. That sign got him in a bit of trouble as the police ended up impounding his bicycle.
To protest this move by the police, Raghbir went on a hunger strike in front of the local police station. Luckily, intervention by his local hosts resulted in his bicycle eventually being returned to him.
Even today, the cyclist who had traveled around the globe at the age of 29, continues to ride a bicycle to raise funds for patients.
The author is a Pakistani-Canadian journalist, filmmaker and activist.
[Courtesy: Dawn. Edited for sikhchic.com]
October 25, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Narindar Singh Dhesi (United Kingdom), October 26, 2012, 3:50 AM.
It would be interesting to know about the military service of Raghbir Singh. Especially his service in Vietnam.
2: Tariq Mahmood (Pindi Lala, Punjab, Paksitan), April 20, 2013, 1:34 PM.
Ragbir Singh ji: I came across your story when I was surfing the net regarding my village. It is amazing for me to know about you. Now I am 56. When I was a child, my uncle had correspondence with the Sardars who migrated from Pindi Lala. But now there is no one except my father, who is now 95, who has any memories of pre-partition days. If you like (and I hope you will), you can contact me through email. I will try to share my memories of Pindi Lala with you.