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Above: The Fountain of Trevi in Rome, Italy. Below - all images are of Pitaji - Sardar Ishar Singh.

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Pita ji's Dream:
Happy Father's Day
Sunday, June 17, 2018







Several years ago - in 1992, I believe - my mother was visiting my daughter and I in Guelph (Ontario, Canada) where we were then living. My mother (‘Biji’) was newly widowed - my father having passed away, after a bout of cancer, only a few months earlier - but continued to live in Toronto, about an hour away from us.

It was Saturday morning. Biji and I were still at the breakfast table, lingering after a lazy brunch, while my daughter (Gehna) was busy upstairs with whatever a 14-year-old does to keep busy on a weekend.

I was immersed in a book when Biji looked up from her knitting and asked me what I was reading.

About Rome, I told her. Gehna and I were putting together a trip to Italy in the summer, I explained. I quickly added that it was a trip we had originally scheduled a couple of summers ago, but it had to be postponed a few times, for one reason or the other ... most recently, when we had found out about Pitaji's cancer and the news that he had only months more to live.

"I didn't know you were planning a trip then," she exclaimed. I hadn't mentioned it because it was only at an early stage, I explained.

"Rome!" she said softly, and then repeated the word a couple of times, as if savouring it.

"Yeah!" I said. "Remember, you visited it in 1970 with Pitaji?"

I noticed the spark of recognition in her eyes.

A few seconds later, she whispered, "The city of fountains!" somewhat matter-of-factly.

She went back to her knitting, I to my book. We were quiet for a long time before she broke the silence once again.

"You know, I've never mentioned this ... because I thought it may not be important. But now, I think maybe you should know."

I looked up and put down my book on the table.

"Your Dad. Shortly before he died. Two or three days before. I was having lunch by his bedside. He was lying down. Had just woken up. He was in and out of sleep all the time, by then. He said something, right out of the blue. 'I want to go to Rome,' he said ...

"He had, all of a sudden, remembered something from a long time ago. 1970. It was when we were travelling around the world, your Dad and I. This is long before we moved to Canada. You and the kids were back in India, we were on our round-the-world trip."

I nodded.

She continued: "At one point, we were in Rome. And we had stopped by this fountain. And somebody, probably the guide, mentioned the legend that if you made a wish at this fountain, it would come true."

"The Trevi Fountain," I interjected, pointing at the book I had been reading - a traveler’s guide to Rome - boasting my recently acquired knowledge.

I also remembered it from ‘Roman Holiday‘: it was the film from the 1960s in which Gregory Peck, standing next to the fountain, had tried to coax a camera from a schoolgirl so that he could snap Audrey Hepburn as she emerged newly-coiffured from a nearby salon.

"Yeah," gasped my mother, "that sounds like it. So, lying on his bed, two days before he died, he had remembered the fountain.

"And ... and he had remembered that he had made a secret wish there, all those years ago, while standing under its spray. He explained to me, while lying on his bed, that he had also promised himself then that if his wish was ever fulfilled, he would come back to Rome some day, to the fountain. That's all."

I humoured my mother with my attentiveness, not sure where the story was heading.

"The wish, he said, had come true. But he had forgotten all about the fountain, and the promise he had made to himself. Until that day! He had seen the fountain in a dream. And, when he woke up, he remembered it clearly. The wish. And the promise."

I reached for the guide-book I had been reading, flipped through it and found a photo of the fountain. She looked at it and smiled.

"The wish?" I asked. "Did he ever tell you what he had wished by the fountain?"

"Yes. He did, but not until he was on his deathbed, the day he remembered. He had wished - on that Spring day of 1970 in Rome, he told me - that his family, his children, be able to find the circumstances which would permit them to leave India, and settle down in a land where there was no religious strife!"

*   *   *   *   *

Only a few weeks after that visit to Rome, I remembered, my parents saw Canada for the first time, as they made their way westward around the globe. For a holiday.

A lot happened in the following 12 months, especially after they returned to India that Fall in 1970.

One thing led to another - a string of events, decisions, adventures: grist for another story, another day! - but on June 29, 1971, a few minutes past midnight, my three sisters, aged 19, 17 and 6, respectively, my brother, 11, and I, 21, landed at the Toronto airport as immigrants. Our parents arrived a few days later.

*   *   *   *   *

Back to our kitchen, 21 years later ...

I listened, mesmerized, as Biji described how Pitaji had fretted over having forgotten his self-promise and his belated desire to make a quick trip to Rome and back. He wasn't aware how far along he was in his illness.

He died peacefully a couple of days later.

A few weeks after the Saturday morning conversation in our kitchen, we finally made it to Rome.

With our knapsacks still on our backs, we made a beeline for downtown Rome from the airport.

As I stood by the Trevi Fountain that evening, I was accompanied by Gehna, who was born in Toronto seven years after our family had landed in Canada that fateful night more than two decades earlier in 1971.

I looked at her as she gambolled in Trevi's spray and realized: she, more than anything else, anybody else in my life, embodied the fulfillment of an immigrant's dream.

And ah, yes, one more thing: she was born in this beautiful, peaceful and civilized land on Thanksgiving Day!

Finally ... of course, Pita ji would smile even more for this one ... this week we celebrate in Toronto the second birthday of Gehna's daughter!

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY! - Sunday, June 17, 2018

*   *   *   *   *

The author, his mother, his daughter and her beautiful family, his siblings, their entire extended family, continue to celebrate their dream-home, Canada.

First published on June 17, 2009; republished on June 15, 2018.






Conversation about this article

1: Amardeep (U.S.A.), June 19, 2009, 10:59 PM.

I love these so-called 'fate' moments in our lives. Nice way to pay tribute to a Dad.

2: Hardarshan Singh Valia (Highland, Indiana, USA), June 19, 2015, 2:36 PM.

Our fathers were the legends of our lives and appreciating the colors of the tapestry of their lives is the best tribute. Thanks for the display of their greatness!

3: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 19, 2015, 5:34 PM.

Sher ji, what a lovely and poignant tribute to your respected Pita ji and of how you found your roots in Canada. This affirmation comes with this profound 'tuk' that started to ring: "nak nath khasam hath / kirat dhakya dya / jahaa daanay tahaan khannay naanaka such hay" [GGS:653.12] - "The string through the nose is in the hands of Waheguru. One's own actions drive him on thither. O Nanak, this is the truth." Happy Father's Day. Those who would wish me are still fast asleep!

4: AJ Singh (San Francisco, California, USA), June 19, 2015, 6:01 PM.

From all the readers that you have fondly nourished with so many fascinating tales over the years, here is wishing you a very Happy Father's Day, Sher.

5: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, USA), June 24, 2015, 3:04 PM.

Completely agree with AJ Singh's comment. Thank you for taking us on these world tours through your pieces. Happy Father's Day. Please try to write more often.

6: Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa Michaud (Espanola, New Mexico, USA), June 15, 2018, 7:53 PM.

Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

7: Hardarshan Singh Valia (Highland, Indiana, USA), June 19, 2018, 11:15 AM.

Fathers, since the dawn of civilization, conquered life's adversities so their children could pursue and conquer dreams. Thanks, T. Sher Singh ji, for the reminder via your beautiful story.

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Happy Father's Day
Sunday, June 17, 2018"

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