“I’m Winder, your son!” These were the first words Winder said to the father he hadn’t seen in 20 years, who was lying in a hospital bed in Melbourne. His Dad didn’t recognise him.
Winder had come halfway round the world to find his Dad, after the family became concerned they’d not heard from the man who was working in Australia to send money home to his family.
Janak Raj, now a frail 63 year old, had left India 20 years ago to help boost the family’s fortunes, leaving behind his wife, Satnam, and his two sons, Gurnam then 19, and Winder who was a 16 year old boy.
In the intervening years, Raj as he’s known, worked as a labourer on construction sites in a host of different countries in the Middle East, before coming to Australia. Raj worked in Sydney and Adelaide, before moving to Melbourne. His family, meantime had relocated from India to Enniskillen in Ireland.
“We talked on a daily basis for many years” says Winder, smiling gently at the quiet man sitting alongside him, “then we were talking every few weeks, but he’s been out of touch now for a year, and we were worried.”
Growing increasingly concerned, Winder and his Mum hopped on a plane, and flew to Australia, allowing themselves three weeks (that’s how much leave Winder could get from work) to find his Dad.
Landing in Adelaide, they connected with people who’d known Raj there some years ago; these discussions led to a Sydney connection, so they flew to the harbour city. Here they got in touch with others who knew Raj, and learnt he’d most recently been in Melbourne.
Three days after arriving in Australia, they arrived in Melbourne, having inexplicably been advised it was a small city. After catching the train from the airport, they decided to walk to their hotel from Southern Cross Station, thinking they might see Raj on the street. It soon dawned on Winder that this was a much bigger task than they had anticipated.
Sitting in the hotel room with his mother, Winder was briefly overwhelmed. “How am I going to find him here? It’s a needle in a haystack!” Then he remembered someone had mentioned Raj had been in Tarneit. Leaving his Mum at the hotel, Winder took a train to Tarneit.
Luckily for Winder, the Tarneit station has an attendant. Winder showed him a 20 year old photo of his Dad, and asked the man if he’d seen Raj. The attendant had seen him, only a few days earlier. Winder learnt that Raj used to spend quite a bit of time at the station, and in recent months had seemed homeless. Winder left his phone number, along with a request: “Please call me if you hear anything”. Winder set off to the nearby shops, where he showed the photo, heard further confirmation of his father’s connection to Tarneit, and left his number.
Unbeknownst to Winder or the Tarneit station attendant, something had happened to Raj at the train station earlier that day. It’s unclear whether he’d been assaulted, but he took a train to Southern Cross, and then was brought to St Vincent’s Emergency Department without a wallet or ID, no phone and no shoes. He had injured ribs, and was confused. Raj was admitted to the Hospital.
While Winder was looking for his father in Tarneit, St Vincent’s Hospital staff were looking for Raj’s next of kin. Raj mentioned he had caught the train from Tarneit, and this is where the planets aligned to reunite this family.
St Vincent’s Social Worker Helen McNicol called Tarneit Railway Station in an attempt to find out more information about Raj’s circumstances and potentially identify a next of kin.
The station attendant was finishing his shift, and just about to walk out the door. Happily he stopped to answer the phone. He confirmed to the incredulous social worker that a family member had just been at the station looking for Raj. He gave her Winder’s number. With Raj’s permission, Helen called the number and was amazed to find that she was speaking to his son, who had travelled over 15,000km to search for him.
‘Please don’t tell him I’m coming,’ Winder said. ‘I want to surprise him.’ Winder set off on the train. He didn’t tell his mother, as he wanted to be sure all was OK before he got her hopes up too.
Raj had last seen Winder as a young teenager, and before him stood a handsome, self-assured man. It took Raj a few seconds for the penny to drop – here was his son! Raj cried. Winder cried, and here were tears from every staff member present, as the pair embraced.
Winder said the universe had got behind the family’s quest. ‘If you decide to do something with your heart then the whole universe gets together and helps you find what you are looking for.’ That is exactly what happened to me. I can’t thank everyone involved enough.’
‘I still can’t believe it!’ Raj said. ‘How did this happen?”
Raj was discharged from hospital the same day.
The family will have to get Raj new travel documents, and then they will bring him to be Northern Ireland where he will meet his two grand-daughters and daughter in law for the first time.
“And now that we’ve found him’ said Winder ‘We won’t let him go again’