Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Testament To The Power Of The Internet

An Indian man who lost his family while begging as a child has been reunited with them after more than two decades -- after spotting his home village on Google Earth.

Twenty five years ago, Saroo Brierly (then known as Sharu) was begging at a railway station in Khandwa, India, with one of his older brothers. They boarded a train that, unbeknownst to them, was going the wrong way and fell asleep. Nine hundred miles and 10 hours later, Saroo woke up on the other side of the country. His brother was nowhere to be found. He was five years old at the time.

The little boy spent a difficult month trying to find his way back home. He almost drowned in the River Ganges and nearly got abducted by a man who wanted to sell him as a slave.

Saroo was placed in an orphanage run by an NGO after he was found begging on the streets of Kolkata and was later adopted by an Australian couple who brought him to Tasmania.

Saroo Brierly never forgot where he came from, and began his search for his hometown soon after graduating from college. "I kept in my head the images of the town I grew up in, the streets I used to wander and the faces of my family, I treasured those memories," The debut of Google Earth in 2005 proved to be the key to Brierly's quest.

From a vague memory of the Khandwa train station, he spent years using the satellite mapping tool to locate an area near the train station that fit in perfectly with this childhood memories-- the village of Ganesh Talai. He then joined a Facebook group for his home town Ganesh Talai and managed to piece together the details by exchanging emails with members of the group.

He booked his plane ticket three weeks ago and went to the town, scouring the streets searching for his family. Incredibly, he found them-- still very poor and living in the same slum of his birth 30 years ago.

Brierly learned that his mother, Kamla, and his eldest brother, Kallu, had searched endlessly for him and his brother after they went missing.  They had sought the comfort of fortunetellers who told them that they would one day be together again. The hoped-for family reunion turned out to be incomplete, however. The brother that had accompanied him that fateful day had later been found dead on the railroad tracks near Burhanpur.

"To this day, I still can't believe I managed to find my family, considering India's population size and how young I was when I lost them," Saroo told reporters. He has no plans to return to his hometown, but hopes to visit his family frequently. He says he plans to make a movie on his past and present which “will have everything”.

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