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How a Google ad inspired me to discover the father I lost when I was young

A journey from a small village to a world capital in search of a long-lost father.

marc martin for the boston globe

It all started with a Google commercial. A few years ago I watched an ad on YouTube about childhood friends from India separated when Pakistan split off into its own country. They found each other again many years later through their grandchildren’s searches. This gave me an idea.

I was born in a small village in the Indian state of Punjab. My grandfather was a freedom fighter against British colonial rule. After India won independence, people fought for states’ rights in the federal system. There were constant protests, which turned violent. When I was 4 years old, my father, a liberal who had been educated in the West and who opposed violence and favored democracy, was shot to death.

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We moved to the home of my maternal grandparents that same day. My mom was a wife, daughter, and mother who had nothing to do with politics. Imagine a woman with two children losing her husband at the age of 31. She sacrificed her own future for ours, working overtime stitching clothes. Her only goal was for her children to grow up and get a good education. I call her a social engineer.

I never thought of having a life outside the family or even our hometown. But after high school I attended one of the country’s oldest and best schools, Panjab University. It was my first exposure to the outside world. The transition was very difficult, but I met talented, smart people from all over India.

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After graduating, I started thinking about moving abroad to pursue higher education. The United States was the best option. Initially I was reluctant, but my brother persuaded me. I came to Boston in 2007 to study telecommunications at Northeastern University, and I’ve been working in the industry here ever since. I owe so much to Boston.

Before coming to the United States, I had scanned about 10 old photographs of my dad onto my computer. I knew they had been snapped in Europe, but I didn’t know where. They sat on my hard drive until I saw the Google ad.

I started doing some searching of my own and learned that the photos had been taken in Berlin. I located all the statues and landmarks in the images and their whereabouts. And I decided that I had to visit Germany.

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Last November I was finally able to go. I toured Berlin, surveyed maps, and made a plan to follow my father’s path. I was lucky to visit unified Berlin; he could only visit East Berlin. On my third day there, I got up very early, put on a long coat and turban to match my father, and started visiting all the places he’d gone 35 years earlier.

I tried to take selfies. Then I started asking for help. First, there was a group of tourists from Uzbekistan. They did not speak English, but I showed them photos of my dad, and one man took my picture. Next, a German guy snapped a photo. I stood just where my dad had stood.

It was an emotional moment. I started telling my story to everyone I met in Berlin. “You know why I am here?” I said. “I found my dad and fatherhood after 35 years!” The people I talked to wanted to know more. All I can say is, believe in the sky: Land has borders but sky belongs to all.

When I came back to Boston, one thing I decided was that when I want to feel close to my dad again, I will visit Berlin. Obviously he’s not with us. I don’t remember what it’s like to have a father. I didn’t know him or what he thought. But at least I can go there physically to connect.

My family could never have imagined I could do this — live and work in the United States and travel to other countries. At one point we couldn’t even leave our village. It’s more than I deserve. If my father could see me, he would be happy that I was able to make it. He would be very happy.

Maninder Singh lives in the Boston area and works in mobile technology. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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