Lost and found across continents

Published on 24 May, 2014 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

The story of the boy who came home after 25 years is set to become a feature film

Born in 1981, in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, Saroo was only five when left home with his elder brother, Guddu, who used to sweep trains. They boarded a train to a small town called Burhanpur. It was meant to be an expedition for fun, but what followed changed their lives forever. A miscommunication separated the two brothers, Saroo boarded another train and fell asleep. When he woke up nearly 14 hours later he was at the Howrah station in Calcutta. He waited for a familiar face amid the vast sea of strangers; he made several attempts to remember the name of his State, but all in vain. He was lost.

A good soul took him to a police station, where he stayed for some time until the Indian Society of Sponsorship and Adoption (ISSA) took him in. After a year, he was adopted by an Australian couple from Tasmania. But the memory of his family back home clung to him. With the map of India pinned on his bedroom wall, he grew up determined to find his birth mother. The problem was he did not know the name of his village. He only had memories of it. He multiplied the time he was on the train and the average speed of the train to deduce that his home must be roughly 1,200km from Kolkata. Using Google Earth, he then drew a circle around that area and looked for landmarks that he remembered — such as a large waterfall. Using Facebook groups he reached his birth home 25 years after he had been lost in 2012.

Tagged as the ‘Google Boy’, Saroo, now a successful businessman in Hobart, says, “I am naturally a huge advocate of the evolution of technology. I have been fortunate enough to meet some wonderful people within the Google family since news of my story broke. Without modern-day technology like Google Earth and Facebook, I would never have been able to find my family. And I hope fewer children suffer the same fate as me by putting this technology to good use.”

Saroo’s memoir A Long Way Home, published by Penguin India in June 2013, is now going to be adapted into a film as well. The film is being produced by See-Saw Films and Sunstar Entertainment, and is expected to go into production later this year. Emile Sherman at See-Saw Films, who won the Oscar for The King’s Speech in 2011, is the producer, and Garth Davis has been roped in to direct it.

Saroo’s role in the book-to-film-adaptation is that of a consultant. Saroo, who now gives talks on issues of identity, is thankful for having been given a second chance at life and feels extremely lucky to be blessed with two families. He continues to live in Hobart but remains in touch with his family in Khandwa. Saroo says he still feels at home in a small village in MP and in faraway Tasmania.


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