Tuesday, 21. October 2014
25. 06. 14. - 16:00
An Indian man who was accidentally transported 1,000 miles from his home when he was just four-years-old managed to find his mother 25 years later by studying maps of Google Earth.
Like many people growing up in rural India Saroo Brierley, whose story was told in a new book about his ordeal released this week, said he rarely had enough to eat and would often travel on trains in the area together with his brother. He said they were like the two brothers on the hit film Slumdog millionaire, begging and riding on the train roof between stations.
But during one ill-fated trip he had been dozing at the station with his brother and when he woke up he found that he was alone.
He said: "I opened my eyes and couldn't see my brother, but I saw a train in front of me with the door open and for some reason I thought he was on board. I ran over and jumped on the train just as the doors closed and pulled out of the station, and it was only then that I realised he wasn't there. I think you could say that split-second decision changed my life forever."
Unable to do much about the situation and alone he simply stayed on the train, making the 1000 mile journey across the country and ending up in Kolkata where alone and without friends, and worse, not speaking the language, he became a beggar.
That was before somebody arranged for him to be rescued from the streets and put into a juvenile home and from there into an orphanage where he was adopted by an Australian couple – and ended up moving to Tasmania where he started a new life.
But he never gave up hope that he might one day get back to his roots despite growing up in a loving family in Australia, and he admits he spent years looking at maps and eventually at Google Earth for signs of the landmarks that he knew as a child.
He said: "I travelled around a lot with my brothers so I had seen a lot of the area around the house. I remembered landmarks, for example there was a waterfall where we used to play and the dam. But I didn't know the town's name and finding a small neighbourhood in a vast country proved to be impossible."
He didn't give up though, looking at the program's satellite images, zooming in and out of the map, exploring the web of railway lines criss-crossing India.
He said: "I thought to myself, 'Well, the first thing you're gonna see before you come to your home town is the river where you used to play with your brothers, and the waterfall, and the architecture of this particular place where you used to visit quite a lot.' It has to be exactly the same, otherwise, if it's not, I'd just fly over and go somewhere else."
And then came the day he found the right place. He said: "I thought, 'On the right-hand side you should see the three-platform train station' — and there it was. 'And on the left-hand side you should see a big fountain' — and there it was.
"Everything just started to match. So I traced a road back that I would follow back as a child, and before I knew it I was looking at the suburb where I had grown up, and just on the right of it was the house I had grown up in. I couldn't sleep for that whole night."
It took months for a trip to be organised to test his theory and when he eventually arrived there the hope almost ended after he found the house closed and locked up and nobody living there. He said he had also been shocked about how small the property in Khandwa, in Madhya Pradesh, had seemed.
He said: "I just thought the worst, I thought perhaps everyone's gone, my whole family's died, they've passed away. But lucky for me this lady came out of a doorway holding a baby, and she said, "Can I help you?" ... And I said to her, my name is Saroo and these are my family members' names. Another person comes in and I sort of revealed my mantra to them as well.
"That went on quite a few times with other people that kept wanting to know this person that's a foreigner that's coming to a town that's never seen a foreigner. And by the time the fourth person had come, they said, "Just stay here for a sec," and within 10 minutes they came back around and they said, "Now I'm going to take you to your mother."
And I couldn't believe it, because when I went around the corner, which was only 10, 15 meters around the corner, there were three ladies standing in front of an entrance to a house. And I looked at the second one and I thought, "There's something about you" — and it took me a few seconds but I decrypted what she used to looked like.
She looked so much shorter than I remembered when I was a 4-year-old child. But she walked forward, and I walked forward, and my emotions and tears and the chemical in my brain, you know, it was like a nuclear fusion. I just didn't know, really, what to say, because I never thought this point in time or ever seeing my mother would ever come true. And there I am, standing in front of her.
Saroo's book "A Long Way Home" went on sale this week.
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