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article imageLittle boy lost finds his way back home using Google Earth

By Kev Hedges     Oct 13, 2014 in World
A five-year old Indian boy who went missing from his home in 1986 has found his mother after discovering the place he grew up in on Google Earth.
Saroo was just a five-year-old boy who could not read or write and helped his older brother sweep train carriages on India's vast railway network. Then late one night, the two brothers disembarked from a train and sat down waiting for another train at a remote station, that would take the boys back home to their mother.
But Saroo was exhausted, and he ended up falling asleep on a bench on the platform. When he awoke some hours later, his brother was nowhere to be seen. It was that short rest that was to change his life dramatically. Saroo believed his brother would have tried to wake him up, but as the bleary-eyed youngster focussed his eyes he saw a train on the platform which had stopped and assumed his brother had got onto that one. The youngster hopped on board and the train departed but Saroo could find no sign of his brother on any of the train's several carriages.
The tired young boy settled on a seat on the train and fell into another long slumber. He eventually woke up some 14 hours later when the train reached its destination in a strange big city. He was unaware of it at the time, but the young boy had actually arrived in the bustling city of Calcutta.
Calcutta is India's third largest city and notorious for its slums, homelessness, pollution and a population of more than 14 million people. Saroo was frightened and all alone and began to ask strangers questions, but with so many young boys sleeping rough on Calcutta's train stations and streets, he would most likely been dismissed as just another slum dog.
He started sleeping rough and began to beg for food just to survive. He was even approached by one man who promised him food and shelter but he was very suspicious of the stranger and declined his offer, managing to run away from him.
After a few weeks on the streets, the boy was eventually taken in by a Calcutta-based orphanage. The centre placed advertisements in various publications putting Saroo up for adoption. The young illiterate boy could not remember the name of the town he was originally from, so the orphanage treated him as an abandoned child.
Eventually a couple from the Australian state of Tasmania contacted the orphanage and took Saroo as their adopted son. The Brierleys took the young boy off to Australia and raised him as their own. He was given an education and accepted he may never find his mother and brother again because he only had vivid memories of the place where he grew up during his first five years.
As Saroo was growing up, he began to think about the place where he was from in India and his yearning to find his mother and brother again began to motivate him to seek out his roots. Now grown up and educated, Saroo took to the Internet and looked at Google Earth to see if he could perhaps stumble across any landmarks he could remember as a child.
Saroo said he felt like Superman as he clicked the mouse to zoom in on several towns and built up cities using the Google Earth software. He used Calcutta as a starting point of reference. He knew that he had slept for 14 hours on that train, so he calculated how fast the train might have been travelling at and how far it would journey to in a 14-hour time frame.
Calcutta is located in the very far east end of India, close to the border with Bangladesh, so Saroo's train must have come from the west. He then began to look at a number of towns and cities on Google Earth to see if there were any features or landmarks that would be familiar to him. He often played at a waterfall as a young boy and could vividly remember some of the streets and the house he lived in.
Incredibly, he quickly discovered the waterfall where he used to play as a child while zooming in on Google Earth. He began to follow a course and navigate along some of the streets he would walk down as a child when he and his brother made their way to the waterfall to play. He learned the name of the town was Khandwa and he even discovered a huge nearby dam on the computer that he remembered seeing once or twice as a toddler.
He had now discovered the town and was keen to seek out the actual neighbourhood he grew up in. Having spent several days scouring the town he eventually discovered he was from the neighbourhood of Ganesh Talai.
Fast forward 25 years to 2011 and a 30-year-old Saroo actually located his house where he grew up in Khandwa from his desk in Tasmania. In 2012 he travelled to Khandwa to find his mother and family. When he arrived at his old house he was very disappointed: the house was old and battered and the lock on the door and the boarded up windows suggested to him that nobody had lived here for years.
He checked with the next door neighbour who said his family had moved away and he didn't know where. While he was talking to the neighbour, another man turned up and said he knew his mother and could take him to see her. Saroo was taken on a short drive to where his mother now lived and he surprised at how much older his mother now looked.
The last time he saw his mother was when she was 34 and he recalled:
The last time I saw her she was 34 years old and a pretty lady, I had forgotten that age would get the better of her. But the facial structure was still there and I recognised her and I said, 'Yes, you are my mother.'
If you think Saroo was surprised to see his mother again, then think what it must have been like for her. For the past 25 years she had no idea if her son was dead or alive. She admitted she was numb to see her son, now a grown man, reappearing just like some sort of ghost.
There were many times over the years that Saroo's mother had believed he was dead until she visited a fortune teller at some time around the year 2000, who told her Saroo was still alive and would one day meet her again. It was this advice that spurred Saroo's mother to live on in hope that one day she would be reunited with her son.
But the reunion was tinged with sadness when Saroo asked his mother about his older brother and where he was living now. His mother just looked sadly at the ground and with a low and sad voice she told Saroo his brother was found dead.
It was just one month after his own disappearance that the brother was found sliced in two on a railway line. The family never knew if foul play was to blame or if the brother had simply slipped and fallen on the tracks.
Saroo was very close to his older brother and sobbed when he had been told of his passing, even though it happened 25 years earlier. After Saroo had moved to Tasmania, he always had trouble sleeping at night as he yearned to be reunited with his family again. He may have had to wait a quarter of a century for technology to develop a system where he could trace back to his birthplace and mother again, but now that dream has been fulfilled Saroo sleeps very well at night now.
He still keeps in touch with his family in India from his home in Tasmania and Saroo Brierley can safely say that the little boy who was once lost now "has taken the weight off [his] shoulders and sleeps so much better now."
Things could get even better for Saroo now as memories of the blockbuster film Slumdog Millionaire are still fresh in the mind, film producers and book publishers are becoming increasingly intrigued in this story.
More about boy lost in India, Tasmanian boy, saroo, Calcutta slum, Slumdog millionaire
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