Bicycle, 21 Rupees and Lala Pindi memories

The history of Canadian resident Sikhs dates back to more than a hundred years but there is also a considerable number who migrated to India from Pakistan after the Indo-Pak division and then moved from India to Canada.

Every year a large number of Sikhs enthusiastically come from Canada to visit their ancestral home in Pakistan.

Ragbir Singh, born in Pindi Lala village situated in Tehsil Phalia in Pakistan’s side of Punjab, shares a similar story. After riding across the world on a bicycle, campaigning for peace and environmental issues, Singh had settled in Canada in 1975.

When I went to meet him in Brampton, he happily shared his experience of the journey and narrated that he was five years old at the time of Pakistan’s independence and that he still missed a brook situated behind his home.

“We used to live in Lala Pindi village, situated in Tehsil Phalia of the then district of Gujrat,” Singh said.

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 situated in District Gujrat of Pakistan was stated as his place of birth on his Indian passport.
During his travel, people showed support for Singh by ringing a bell he had made out of spent bullet casings, used in the Vietnam War.

Singh 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, 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.

Singh had visited Pakistan a few years ago on his Canadian passport and had brought back a cup of his native soil which he showed with great nostalgia.

He maintained that Pakistan was his country and that he missed his native village a lot.

A keeper of the Holy Quran and other religious books in his home, 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.

Singh runs a business in Brampton along with his wife. He can converse in nine languages and remembers a few Urdu proses. He also claims that Pakistani singer Abrar ul Haq is his favourite.

Singh also sheepishly admitted in front of his jovial wife that seven women had proposed to him for marriage during his journey.

His passport too mentions his profession as a traveler.

While traveling through Tahiti, where the French government was experimenting with nuclear weapons, Singh wrote “Ban the bomb” on his bicycle. That sign got him in a bit of trouble as the police had ended up impounding his bicycle.

To protest this move by the police, Singh 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.

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Mohsin Abbas is Pakistani-Canadian journalist, filmmaker and press freedom activist. He is the editor of Diversity Reporter, a multilingual weekly newspaper for newcomers and immigrants in Canada. Currently he is on a mission, travelling across Canada to document South Asian-Canadians stories. You can share your migration tales by contacting him at editor@diversityreporter.com