Saroo Brierley, a poor Indian boy, was separated from his brother when he was young. He survived on the streets for a time before being taken in by an orphanage. Brierley was adopted and grew up in Australia. Many years later, Brierley used Google Earth to painstakingly find his village and surviving family. He wrote a book about the ordeal.
Childhood of Poverty
Saroo Brierley was born in Khandwa in rural India, the third son of Fatima Munshi. Brierley's father neglected the family. When Fatima Munshi was pregnant with a fourth child, a daughter, her husband took a second wife. Fatima Munshi expressed her dissatisfaction and they publicly declared their divorce in keeping with local custom. From then on, Brierley and his brothers, Guddu and Kallu, and their baby sister, Shakila, were raised solely by their mother.
Fatima Munshi struggled to support the family by taking work on construction sites. Many nights, the family went to bed hungry. Guddu and Brierley hit the streets to beg. They often rode the trains all day, reaching under seats to scrabble for a few coins. Brierley followed his brother everywhere. In 1987 when he was four, Brierley and his brother took a train to Burhanpur, 40 miles away. He became so tired from begging and looking for food or money, he had to rest on a train station bench. Guddu promised to keep working and said he'd be back in a few minutes.
A Lost Boy
Brierley couldn't keep his eyes open. When he awoke much later, it was getting dark. Still groggy, he walked into the train car in front of him, thinking Guddu must be inside. He sat down and fell asleep. Hours later, he realized he was alone and ran up and down the now empty train, screaming his brother's name. For hours he watched the unfamiliar landscape pass outside the windows. Brierley got off when the train reached its final destination--Calcutta.
Brierley, illiterate and uneducated, didn't even know his last name. He spoke Hindi, while most of those in Calcutta spoke Bengali. He lived on the streets. Desperate to find his way home, he boarded train after train, but none took him to familiar stations. Back in Calcutta, a man who spoke Hindi took Brierley in. The four-year-old realized much later that the man meant to sell him into slavery. At the time, however, Brierley only knew the situation felt strange, so he ran.
Soon after this incident Brierley found another man who spoke Hindi. This man took the homeless child to a center run by the Indian government. Child welfare workers put him in a building teeming with abandoned children. This was a dog-eat-dog environment in which the younger children were often victims. Brierley was again the only person who spoke Hindi. After a few weeks, however, Brierley was moved to the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption, where he was housed with about 15 friendly children. The staff tried to use the few facts Brierley recalled about his home and family to locate them, but gave up. A few months later, word came: Brierley was being adopted.
A New Life
On the plane to Tasmania, Australia, where Brierley would meet his new family, he pored over photo albums his adoptive parents had provided. When he arrived at the airport, he immediately recognized them. Brierley was amazed at his good fortune. He had his own room and his own toys. His parents decided to adopt another Indian child, and soon Brierley had a brother.
Years later Brierley attended university. He spoke to many Indian students, always asking if they knew of the train station he had been in, but he only knew a fragment of the station name. He could remember a waterfall on a river. Brierley began scouring Google Maps, tracing rail lines in India, looking for familiar landmarks and especially the waterfall. He looked for years. He graduated and went to work at his family's hose supply business. In time he saw what he was looking for on Google Maps: his village.
Finally, on February 12, 2012, Brierley traveled to India and his village. The house where he had lived was empty, but neighbors asked him who he was and he was led around the corner. There, he saw his mother again, for the first time in a quarter century. They needed translators, because Brierley could remember only a few words in Hindi. Brierley soon learned the fate of his brother, Guddu, who had never returned for him that day in 1987. Guddu had died, his battered body found on the tracks. Nobody knew if he had fallen or been pushed.
Local media clamored to talk to the found boy. After ten days, Brierley returned to Australia. At home journalists and movie makers also wanted to hear his story. In June of 2014 Penguin Australia published Brierley's memoir, A Long Way Home. Despite the joyful reunion, his relationship with his birth mother was strained. She could not understand that he was Australian and had a life there. Brierley, who sent $100 a month to Fatima Munshi, was frustrated that his mother expected him to return to India to care for her.
Addresses: Home--Tasmania, Australia.
- "A Long Way Home: Remarkable Tale of Indian Boy Who Was Accidentally Transported 1,000 Miles from Home Aged Four and Found His Way Back 25 Years Later Thanks to Google Earth," Daily Mail (London), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2669552/A-long-way-home-Remarkable-tale-Indian-boy-accidentally-transported-1-000-miles-home-aged-four-way-25-years-later-thanks-Google-Earth.html (August 1, 2014).
- "Saroo Brierley Reunited with Mother Fatima Munshi after 25 Years," Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/11/saroo-brierley-fatima-munshi-reunited_n_1586174.html (August 1, 2014).
- "With Memories and Online Maps, a Man Finds His 'Way Home,'" NPR: National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/2014/06/22/323355643/with-memories-and-online-maps-a-man-finds-his-way-home (August 1, 2014).