Saroo was born as Sheru Munshi Khan in Khandwa’s Ganesh Tilai neighbourhood (Madhya Pradesh). As a young boy, his father left his mother, catapulting the family into poverty. His mother worked at construction sites to support herself and her three children. She couldn’t afford to send them to school, so when Saroo was 5, he along with his older brothers Guddu and Kallu, began begging at the railway station.
One fateful evening, Saroo accompanied Guddu to ride the train from Khandwa to the city of Burhanpur, which was 70 kilometers down south. By the time the train reached Burhanpur, Saroo was so exhausted that he collapsed on one of the platform seats. Guddu promised him that he would return shortly, but he never did; leaving Saroo to fend for himself.
Saroo noticed a train parked at the station and climbed onto it thinking his brother was on it. He fell asleep and when he woke up, the train was crossing a territory unfamiliar to him. Saroo couldn’t get down from the train as he was unable to open the door whenever the train stopped at small stations.
He eventually ended up at Kolkata’s Howrah Railway Station, almost 1500 kilometers away from home! After scavenging for food in the streets, sleeping underneath the station’s seats and being chased by two “wrong people”, Saroo met a teenager who took him to a government center for abandoned children.
Adoption by an Australian family
Weeks later, he was moved to the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption where he was adopted by the Brierley family of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. During all the commotion, his mother frantically searched for her sons. A few weeks later, she was informed that Guddu’s body had been found near the railway tracks after he had been struck by a train, a kilometer from Burhanpur. Undeterred, she continued her search for Saroo, travelling to different places on trains.
Meanwhile, Saroo grew up as a typical Australian boy in Hobart. He studied business and hospitality at the Australian International Hotel School in Canberra.
The quest to trace his family
He would often spend many hours over many months on Google Earth, following railway lines radiating out from the Howrah railway station, in the hope of tracing his way back home.
One night in 2011, while browsing Google Earth, he stumbled upon a name that rang a bell; it was Burhanpur Station. He followed it and found the town of Khandwa and recognizable features such as a fountain near the train tracks where he used to play. Saroo then contacted a Facebook group based in Khandwa and got in touch with the members.
He travelled to Khandwa & after communicating with the locals and showing photographs of himself as a child (25 years ago), Saroo was led to his mother! He also reunited with his sister Shekila and brother Kallu who were doing pretty well for themselves.
Presently, Saroo lives in Hobart and is in constant touch with his family, thanks to computer technology. He hopes to buy his mother a house so that she no longer has to work as a cleaner in order to pay rent. He even penned a book about his life titled “A Long Way Home” which is being turned into a film starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel.