A Long Way Home: A Memoir



A Wonderful real-life tale of Hope and the human spirit

This book tells an amazing story. There is simply no other way to describe it. It is the real-life story of Saroo, a five-year-old child in a village in central India, who gets lost and finds himself transported all the way east to Calcutta, some 1800 kms away. Young Saroo, all of five, penniless and illiterate, does not even know the name of his village and knows little else about where he was from. He gets off at the bustling, crowded Howrah train station and survives for six weeks in the intimidating bad and mean streets of Calcutta by his instincts and luck. He ends up at a benevolent orphanage called ISSA, where the kindly Ms.Saroj Sood - tries to find his family and re-unite him. But all Saroo can tell was that he was from Ginestlay, which is what he remembered as his village's name. He also mistakenly says that he travelled just overnight by train when in reality he had travelled almost 24 hours to get to Calcutta. After a couple of moths' futile effort, Mrs.Sood pronounces him 'lost' and organizes him to be adopted by Sue and John Brierley, a young couple from Tasmania, Australia.

Saroo is lovingly brought up by the Brierleys and he grows up into a happy and well-integrated Aussie over the next 20 years. However Saroo always wonders about his origins, with clear memories of his birth mother Kamala, his kid sister Shekila and elder brothers Kallu and Guddu, whom he looked up to as a child two decades before. He starts working on trying to find where he was from by using the feeble memories of his childhood. All he had to go by was that there was a train station whose name was something like 'Berampur' , that it had a water tower, an overpass across the tracks and that the town had a fountain near a cinema. His village 'Ginestlay' was somewhere nearby and that they were all reachable overnight by train from Calcutta. Gradually, over five years, with incredible patience and perseverance , Saroo, at age 30, using Google Earth's satellite images and Facebook, miraculously locates the train station with the identifying features of his childhood. He notes that a nearby town is called Khandwa and that there is a Facebook group belonging to people from Khandwa. He contacts them and gets the key info that there is a nearby village called Ganesh Talai - the 'Ginestlay' of 5-year-old Saroo! Saroo soon goes to India and reconnects with his birth family to the great delight of his elderly mother Kamala and his siblings Shekila and Kallu, who are now married with children. Sadly, Guddu, his eldest brother whom he adored as a child, was killed in an accident just on the same day that Saroo got lost 25 years before. Otherwise, it is a happy resolution for Saroo.

Not only Saroo, but his Aussie parents, Sue and John as well, come off as wonderful, loving and caring parents and individuals. Sue herself was a WWII refugee from Hungary and her story is also inspring as told it in the book. Saroo's birth mother Kamala is another remarkable woman, who never gave up hope that her son Sheru (which is his correct name!) would return one day. Hence she never moved from the shack where she lived so that she will be there when Saroo comes back! The other heroes in the book are the internet, Google Earth and Facebook! It is a great tribute to these wonderful technologies which make it possible for the adult Saroo to sit ten thousand miles away in Hobart, Australia and exactly locate the water tower and overpass of his childhood memory and find out the correct name of his village. Let no one denounce technology again!

I found the book moving, inspirational and one of hope and the indomitable spirit of the humankind. It is a story of triumph against great odds. Going through the early chapters where Saroo survives for six weeks as a five-year-old in Calcutta, I had palpitations as I felt anxious that nothing terrible should befall young Saroo! The book also has a special appeal for me since I grew up in India and lived for 13 years in wonderful Australia.


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