Saroo Brierley is such a lovely, lovely man. It was at the leafy, green suburb of Eltham that I was invited for an in-conversation at a not so prosaic Indian restaurant with this young man who has suddenly been thrown into the limelight after the story of his life became public, unintentionally.
Once inside, Saroo found an empty seat to rest thinking that Guddu was a couple of carriages down and would walk his way up to him. He fell asleep again only to wake up in Kolkata amid a vast sea of people. For days he spent time at this big train station trying to work out if he could take a train back to where he came from. He could hardly coin the name of the place he came from and no one paid heed to his call for help. “I went through a lot of life threatening situations. I was extremely scared but I got through everything and managed to and the way that I did it was quite amazing by myself,” he said.
Life progressed for Saroo in Australia, he attended university, worked in bars and nightclubs and did all the regular things, but there was at the back of his mind an urge to find his family. “It was a massive urge like a huge weight on my shoulders. I wanted to find out if my mother, brothers and sister were still alive.” He knew there was a possibility, he had the map of India on his wall “but it is such a deterrent, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.” He never gave up though there were times when he almost did. So when Google Earth came out, he thought he had such a great memory and could use his visual memory and marry them up with Google Earth. One night the search eventuated after eight years of working on it. He found his hometown and planned his way to India after taking to his parents who supported him throughout his endeavour.
After preparing himself well, Saroo landed in India. He admitted to being shocked at the “amount of Indians that I was submerged in, I have never been among so many Indians. It was exciting too.” His next step was to find his family. “My feet just took me to the nooks and crannies and the streets I used to walk to, to the suburb where I lived and right in front of my house. It looked so small and tiny, I didn’t realise I was small then and everything looked big. So I had to compete with that ordeal and just push it on the side and say yes this is the place you come from Saroo but it looks so much smaller because you are so much taller.”
Saroo found himself looking at a door that was chained up and locked and it was the door that he used to walk through as a child. “I was fearing the worst. Everything was going on at a million pace.” A lady came out from the side door and he told her his story showing at the same time an A4 paper with pictures of him when he was little. She looked at it and said these people don’t live here anymore. “After a few minutes, someone else came again, I relayed my mantra, then another person and when the last person came along I told him a little more in depth and he could understand a bit more English. He said ‘wait I will be back in a minute’ and I didn’t really know what he was up to but when he came back after 5-10 mins, he said ‘I will take you to your mother’. I couldn’t believe he said that, I asked him do you know who I am talking about?”
Saroo walked with the man just 10 mins round the corner and three ladies were standing adjacent to each other at the entrance of a door. Looking at the three from a distance, Brierley recalled looking at the first woman and finding nothing that resembled from memory. With the second there was something, he looked at the third one and said no. “Then I walked towards the middle one and she walked forward as well. And everything just came about. I know 25 years is a long time but the facial structure of my mother was there. We were just elated, extreme with emotions, I was just frozen. For her it would have been like I saw you 25 years ago and you vanished like a ghost and here you are in front of me materialised on this day. Where have you been?” But she had been staying in the neighbourhood all these years in the hope that he will one day return. “I still think about the time and the moment when I saw my mother, I will treasure that for the rest of my life and I am so fortunate, humbled and touched by you guys being here and listening to my story.”
Saroo’s powerful memoir, A Long Way From Home, is going to be made into a film soon. I found myself listening to a story of courage and determination. Prior to meeting Saroo, I had watched a 60 mins documentary on him by ninemsn. I found a tear or two slipping when I watched the scene where the two mothers meet. It was like a collision of gratitude, and shows the extraordinary people that he is surrounded with - a birth mother who lived for her children and a fertile mother who gave up everything to adopt. I was incredibly moved.