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Saroo Brierley  

Indian-Born Australian Businessman and Author Who Found His Birth Mother After a Separation of 25 years; Author, "A Long Way Home"

Saroo Brierley was born in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. When he was young, his father left his mother, throwing the family into poverty. His mother worked in construction to support herself and her children but often did not make enough money to feed them all. At age 5, Saroo and his older brothers Guddu and Kallu began begging at the railway station for food and money. Guddu sometimes obtained work sweeping the floors of train carriages.

One evening, Guddu said he was going to ride the train from Khandwa to Burhanpur, 70 km to the south. Saroo asked his older brother if he could come too. Guddu agreed. By the time the train reached Burhanpur, Saroo was so tired he collapsed onto a seat on the platform. Guddu told his little brother to wait and promised to be back shortly. Guddu did not return and Saroo eventually became impatient. He noticed a train parked in the station and, thinking his brother was on it, boarded an empty carriage. He found there were no doors to the adjoining carriages. Hoping his brother would come for him, he fell asleep. When he awoke, the train was traveling across unfamiliar country. Many hours passed and the journey continued. Occasionally the train stopped at small stations, but Saroo was unable to open the door to escape. The journey eventually ended at the huge Howrah railway station in Kolkata when someone opened the door to Saroo's prison and he fled. Saroo did not know it at the time but he was nearly 1500 km from his hometown.

Saroo attempted to return home by boarding different trains, but they proved to be suburban trains and each one eventually took him back to Howrah railway station. For a week or two he lived on and around Howrah railway station. He survived by scavenging scraps of food in the street and sleeping underneath the station's seats. Eventually, he ventured out into the city streets. He was found by a railway worker who took him in and gave him food and shelter, but Saroo fled when the railway worker showed Saroo to a friend and Saroo sensed that something was not right. The two men chased after him, but he managed to escape.

Saroo eventually met a teenager who took him to the local police and reported that he may be a lost child. The police took Saroo to a government center for abandoned children. Weeks later, he was moved to the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption. The staff there attempted to locate his family, but Saroo did not know enough for them to sufficiently trace his hometown, and he was officially declared a lost child. He was subsequently adopted by the Brierley family of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

In the meantime, his mother, Kamla Munshi, searched for her two sons. A few weeks after her sons failed to return home, police informed her that Guddu's body had been found near the railway tracks, a kilometre from Burhanpur station. He had been struck by a train. She then confined her energy to looking for Saroo, traveling to different places on trains. She visited a temple every week to offer incense and rose petals in prayer for his return.

Saroo grew up in Hobart as a typical Australian boy. His Australian parents adopted another Indian boy, Mantosh. Saroo learned English, and quickly forgot Hindi. He entered university, studying business and hospitality.

As an adult, he spent many hours over many months conducting searches using the satellite images on Google Earth, painstakingly following railway lines radiating out from Howrah railway station. He relied on his vague memories of the main features around Burhanpur railway station although he knew little of the name of the station except that it began with the letter B. Late one night in 2011, he came upon a small railway station that closely matched his childhood recollection of the station on which he became trapped in an empty carriage; and he was stunned to discover that the name of this station was Burhanpur, very close to a phonetic spelling of the name he remembered from his childhood ordeal. He followed the satellite images of the railway line north and found the town of Khandwa. He had no recollection of that name but the town contained recognizable features such as a fountain near the train tracks where he used to play. He was able to trace a path through the streets to what appeared to be the place where he and his family used to live.

Following up on a lead, Saroo contacted a Facebook group based in his supposed hometown of Khandwa. The Facebook group reinforced his belief that Khandwa might indeed be his hometown.

Saroo then traveled to India, to his hometown, and asked local residents if they knew of any family that had lost their son 25 years ago and also showed photographs of himself as a child in Hobart. Local residents soon led him to his mother. He was also reunited with his sister Shekila and his surviving brother Kallu. The reunion was extensively covered by Indian and international media.

Saroo continues to live in Hobart. He and his Indian family are now able to communicate regularly, taking advantage of a computer at the home of one of Kallu's neighbors. He hopes to buy his mother a house, so she no longer has to work so hard as a cleaner in order to pay rent on her meagre rooms.

In 2012 Saroo finished his book, "A Long Way Home," describing his ordeal as a lost 5 year old, his adoption by an Australian family and his search for his Indian family.


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