Mangeons et réjouissons-nous; car mon fils que voici était mort, et il est revenu à la vie; il était perdu, et il est retrouvé. Jésus (Luc 15: 23-24)
Que vous en semble? Si un homme a cent brebis, et que l’une d’elles s’égare, ne laisse-t-il pas les quatre-vingt-dix-neuf autres sur les montagnes, pour aller chercher celle qui s’est égarée? Et, s’il la trouve, je vous le dis en vérité, elle lui cause plus de joie que les quatre-vingt-dix-neuf qui ne se sont pas égarées.De même, ce n’est pas la volonté de votre Père qui est dans les cieux qu’il se perde un seul de ces petits. Jésus (Matt 18: 12-14)
La joie dans mon cœur était aussi profonde que l’océan. Fatima
Décidément, on ne se méfiera jamais assez de Google!
Saroo Brierley, un Australien d’adoption a retrouvé sa famille dont il avait perdu la trace en Inde quand il avait 5 ans. Son histoire pourrait faire l’objet d’un film.
«Par où commencer?» C’est la question que s’est posée Saroo Brierley, quand il a décidé de rassembler ses souvenirs pour retrouver ses origines, après vingt-cinq ans de mystères. Adopté par une famille australienne, l’enfant d’origine indienne devenu un jeune adulte a retrouvé son village et sa famille grâce à Google Earth, raconte Vanity Fair.
Au début des années 1990, Saroo a 5 ans lorsqu’il part avec son frère Guddu, de quatre ans son aîné, pour ramasser les pièces de monnaie tombées dans les trains de sa région. Comme à chaque fois qu’ils partent à l’aventure mendier dans les wagons, les deux frères prennent toujours les mêmes itinéraires. Mais un jour, épuisé par leur quête, le plus jeune s’endort pendant que l’autre continue sa collecte. En se réveillant, il a perdu la trace de son grand frère et s’égare en partant à sa recherche.
Illettré et ne sachant pas compter, Saroo ne connaît pas non plus le nom de sa ville, ni de sa région ni même son nom de famille. Après avoir pris plusieurs trains en espérant se rapprocher de chez lui, l’enfant parcourt plus de 1500 kilomètres et atteint Calcutta, capitale de l’État du Bengale-Occidental, en Inde. Accueilli par une association et adopté par un couple d’Australiens, Saroo prend l’avion pour la première fois et atterri en Tasmanie, île du sud de l’Australie.
Dix ans d’enquête
Quinze ans plus tard, diplômé et intégré à la société australienne, le jeune homme est pris d’envie de retrouver ses racines. Il lance alors Google Earth, et pointe son curseur vers l’Inde. Il ne se souvient que d’une gare, d’un barrage et d’une cascade, d’une fontaine, d’un grand pont et d’un grand complexe industriel. Mais, traumatisé par l’immensité de la carte de l’Inde, il laisse tomber et ne reprendra ses recherches que trois ans plus tard. Après sept années d’enquête supplémentaires, Saroo réussit enfin son pari en poussant sa réflexion: il multiplie le nombre d’heures durant lesquelles il était resté endormi dans le train avec la vitesse de croisière d’un train de l’époque et réussi à réduire la zone de recherche à 1200 kilomètres de diamètre.
En remontant la voie ferrée sur les images satellites, il tombe sur un pont près d’une usine bordant une rivière, précisément là où il avait perdu son frère. «J’ai eu un choc», explique Saroo. Il retrouve finalement son village en repérant une fontaine où il s’était blessé vingt-cinq ans plus tôt. Un événement qui l’avait marqué. «Ganesh Talai, c’est donc le nom de mon village».
Encouragé par sa famille adoptive, Saroo décolle en février 2010 en direction de l’Inde, à la recherche de ses proches. «J’en suis arrivé à pleurer tellement les flash-back étaient puissants», raconte-t-il. Arrivé à Ganesh Talai, il passe devant des lieux familiers et tombe sur une habitation faite de briques de boue avec un toit d’étain: c’est sa maison. Sans dire un mot, une femme, sa mère biologique s’approche vers lui et le serre dans ses bras. «La joie dans mon cœur était aussi profonde que l’océan», explique-t-elle. Saroo retrouve ainsi sa petite sœur Shekila, son frère Kullu, mais pas son aîné Guddu, retrouvé un mois après sa disparition, le corps coupé en deux sur une voie ferrée.
Saroo est resté 11 jours près des siens pour rattraper le temps perdu. Il leur a promis de leur envoyer chaque mois 100 dollars pour compenser leurs faibles revenus. Soulagé, il est reparti en Australie en sachant que ni sa mère ni son frère ne l’avaient abandonné. Originale, son histoire intéresserait déjà éditeurs et producteurs de films, selon la BBC.
Separated from his older brother at a train station, five-year-old Saroo Munshi Khan found himself lost in the slums of Calcutta. Nearly 20 years later, living in Australia, he began a painstaking search for his birth home, using ingenuity, hazy memories, and Google Earth.
It was just a small river flowing over a dam, but to five-year-old Saroo Munshi Khan it felt like a waterfall. He played barefoot under the downpour as trains passed nearby. When night fell, he would walk a couple miles home.
Home was a tiny mud-brick house with a tin roof. He lived there with his mother, Kamala, who worked long hours carrying bricks and cement, two older brothers, Guddu and Kullu, and a younger sister, Shekila. His father, Munshi, had abandoned the family two years earlier. Guddu, then aged nine, had assumed his role as the man of the house. Guddu spent his days searching passenger trains for fallen coins. Sometimes he didn’t return for days. On one occasion, he was arrested for loitering at the train station.
One day, Guddu took Saroo on a road he’d never seen before, to a factory where Guddu had heard that they might be able to steal eggs. As the boys made their way out of the coop—holding their shirts like hammocks, full of eggs—two security guards came after them, and they were separated.
Saroo was illiterate. He couldn’t count to 10. He didn’t know the name of the town he lived in or his family’s surname. But he had a keen sense of direction and paid attention to his surroundings. He retraced the journey in his mind, and his feet followed—through the dusty streets, turning past the cows and the cars, a right here near the fountain, a left there by the dam—until he stood panting at his doorstep. He was out of breath and nearly out of eggs, so many had cracked and oozed through his shirt. But he was home.
Saroo began venturing farther away from home, confident that he could always retrace his steps. He’d fly kites with the neighborhood kids, fetch kindling from the woods, or go to the market to watch for scraps as the butchers cut up goat meat. One afternoon, he fell and split his forehead on a rock after being chased by one of the town’s many feral dogs; another day, he cut his leg deeply while climbing over a fence near a fountain.
Early one evening, Guddu agreed to take his little brother to the railway station to search the compartments for change. Saroo rode for 30 minutes on the back of his brother’s rickety bicycle. The two got on a train to Burhanpur, about two hours away, and began scouring the floorboards for money as the train pulled away. The conductor never bothered them. Though he only found peanut shells, Saroo was happy just to be with his favorite brother.
By the time they hopped off the train at Burhanpur, Saroo felt exhausted and told his brother he needed to nap before they caught the next train back. Guddu took his hand and led him to a bench. “I’m just going to go off and do something,” Guddu told him. “Stay here. Don’t go anywhere.” But when Saroo woke up later that night, his brother was gone. Groggy and dazed, he wandered onto a waiting passenger train, assuming that Guddu must have been waiting for him inside. There were only a few people in the carriage, but Saroo figured his brother would find him soon enough, so he settled back to sleep.
When he woke, sunlight was streaming through the windows and the train was moving quickly through the countryside. Saroo had no idea how long he had been asleep and jumped up from his seat. There was no one else in the carriage, and, outside, the blurred grasslands were unrecognizable. “Bhaiya!” Saroo screamed, the Hindi word for brother. “Guddu!” But there was no response. Unable to move to another carriage while the train was in motion, Saroo ran back and forth through the car, calling for his brother, to no avail. He had no food, no money, and no idea how far he had gone or was going. “It was a lot like being in a prison, a captive,” he recalled, “and I was just crying and crying.”
Saroo had to wait a few more hours before the train arrived at the next stop. The five-year-old—who had never ventured unaccompanied beyond his small town—was now wandering alone through a bustling train station. He couldn’t read the signs on the platform. Desperately, he ran up to strangers pleading for help, but no one spoke Hindi. “They ignored me because they couldn’t understand me,” he recalled.
Saroo eventually climbed onto another train, hoping it might lead him home, but it led him to another strange town. With night falling he rode back to the busy train station. Saroo saw what seemed to be a sea of homeless men, women, and children. He passed corpses as well. He didn’t know it at the time, but he had ended up in Calcutta’s main train station. Fearful and confused, Saroo curled under a row of seats and went to sleep.
On the Streets
For the next week or so, Saroo traveled in and out of Calcutta by train, hoping to end up back at his hometown—but only found himself in other strange places, cities and towns he didn’t know or recognize. He subsisted on whatever he could beg from strangers or find in the trash. Finally, after one last fruitless trip on a train, Saroo gave up and stepped back into the Calcutta train station, his new home.
While he was crossing the train tracks, a man approached him, wanting to know what Saroo was up to. “I want to go back to Burhanpur,” he told the man—the only city name he knew. “Can you help me?”
The man told him he lived close by. “Why don’t you come with me?” he said. “I’ll give you some food, shelter, and water.”
Saroo followed him to his tin hut, where he was given a simple meal of dhal, rice, and water. “It felt good because I had something in my stomach,” Saroo recalled. The man gave him a place to sleep and the next day told him that a friend was going to come over and help him find his family. On the third day, while the man was at work, the friend showed up. Saroo told him he looked like the famous Indian cricket player Kapil Dev. “A lot of people tell me that,” the friend replied in Hindi. Then he told Saroo to come lie next to him in bed.
As the friend peppered Saroo with questions about his family and hometown, Saroo began to worry. “All of a sudden, being close to him the way I was started to give me a sick kind of feeling,” he recalled. “I just thought, This isn’t right.” Fortunately lunchtime was approaching, and the other man returned just in time for Saroo to plan his escape. After finishing his egg curry, Saroo slowly washed the dishes, waiting for the right moment to make a run for it. When the men went for a cigarette, Saroo ran out the door as fast as he could. He ran for what seemed like 30 minutes, darting down side streets, ignoring the sharp rocks that jabbed his bare feet.
Finally out of breath, he sat down for a break. Up the road he saw the two men approaching, along with two or three others. Saroo crouched in a shadowy alleyway, praying that the men would pass without noticing him—which they eventually did.
After Saroo had been living on the streets for a few weeks, a kind man who spoke a little Hindi took pity on him and gave him shelter for three days. Unsure of what to do next, he took Saroo to a local prison, thinking that he’d be safest there. The next day Saroo was transferred to a juvenile home—a common endpoint for vagrant and criminal youth. “The things around there were sort of horrific,” Saroo recalled. “You saw kids with no arms, no legs, deformed faces.”
The Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption (issa), a nonprofit child-welfare group, paid regular visits to the home looking for children fit for adoption. Saroo was deemed a good candidate, and after no one responded to his description and photo in an issa missing-children bulletin, he was added to the adoption list. Transferred to an orphanage, Saroo was cleaned up and taught how to eat with a knife and fork instead of his hands so that he’d be better suited for Western parents. Then one day he was handed a little red photo album. “This is your new family,” he was told. “They will love you, and they will take care of you.”
Saroo flipped through the album. There was a photo of a smiling white couple; the woman had red curly hair, and the man, slightly balding, wore a sport coat and tie. He saw a photo of a red-brick home with the same man waving on the front porch near a flower bed. An administrator translated the English text accompanying each photo. “This is the house that will be our home, and how your father will welcome you home,” read a caption underneath the picture. Saroo flipped the page and saw a postcard of a Qantas airplane in the sky. “This plane will take you to Australia,” read the caption.
Saroo had never heard of Australia. But in his six months away from home, he had come to realize that he couldn’t find his way back after all. “Here’s a new opportunity,” he recalled thinking. “Am I willing to accept it or not? And I said to myself, I’ll accept this, and I’ll accept them as my new family.”
A New Start
Saroo could say only a few words in English when he arrived in Hobart, a scenic harbor in Tasmania, an island off the southeastern tip of Australia, and one of them was “Cadbury.” Cadbury had a famous chocolate factory near Hobart; on meeting his parents, Saroo, who had never tasted chocolate before, was clutching a big melted piece.
John and Sue Brierley were an earnest couple with charitable ideals who, though they were probably biologically capable of bearing children, chose to adopt a lost Indian child as a way of giving back to the world. “There are so many kids around that need a home,” John said, “so we thought, Well, this is what we will do.”
The Brierleys had started their own company around the time that Saroo joined their family. They also owned a boat and would take their new son sailing along the Tasman Sea, where he learned to swim. Saroo would return to their air-conditioned house—his bedroom with a stuffed koala, a sailboat bedspread, and a map of India on the wall—as if he were living someone else’s life. “I kept on looking over to them to make sure this is all real,” he recalled, “to make sure, you know, that they’re here and this is not a dream.”
Despite the shock of the new lifestyle, Saroo adjusted, picking up the language as well as an Aussie accent. Though there were few Indians in Tasmania, he grew into a popular teenager; he was athletic and always had a girlfriend. His family expanded when his parents adopted another boy from India five years later. But, privately, he was haunted by the mystery of his past. “Even though I was with people I trusted, my new family, I still wanted to know how my family is: Will I ever see them again? Is my brother still alive? Can I see my mother’s face once again?” he recalled. “I would go to sleep and a picture of my mum would come in my head.”
In 2009, having graduated from college, Saroo was living with a friend in the center of Hobart and working on the Web site for his parents’ company. Recovering from an ugly breakup, he was drinking and partying more than usual. After years of ignoring his past, it finally came crashing back—the desire to find his roots, and himself.
That’s when he went to his laptop and launched Google Earth, the virtual globe made from satellite imagery and aerial photography. With a few clicks, anyone could get a bird’s-eye view of cities and streets on the computer screen. “I was flying over India on Google Earth just like Superman,” he recalled, “trying to zoom in on every town that I saw.”
As the tiny trees and trains blurred on his screen, he had a moment of pause and wondered: would he find his home using Google Earth? It certainly seemed like a crazy idea. He didn’t have even a vague notion of where in the vast country he had been raised.
All he had was a laptop and some hazy memories, but Saroo was going to try.
The Search Begins
But finding his hometown and his family presented more challenges than anything he’d ever tackled before; he hadn’t been home since he was five and didn’t know the name of the town where he was born. He tried looking for the city where he’d fallen asleep on the train, but he no longer remembered any Hindi, and the names on the map swam before him: Brahmapur, Badarpur, Baruipur, Bharatpur—a seemingly endless string of similar-sounding names. He could muster only a few landmarks to look for on Google Earth: there was the train station, the dam that flowed like a waterfall after the monsoons, and the fountain where he had cut himself climbing over the fence. He also remembered seeing a bridge and a large industrial tank near the more distant station where he was separated from his brother. As he saw the mass of India glowing on his screen, the question was: Where to start?
He began in the most logical way he could imagine: by following the train tracks out of Calcutta, to “find the breadcrumbs,” as he later put it, that would lead him back home. The tracks led away from the city like a spiderweb, crisscrossing the country. After weeks of fruitlessly following the tracks, Saroo would get frustrated and periodically give up the search.
About three years later, however, he became determined to pinpoint his birthplace. It happened just after he met his girlfriend Lisa, who as it happened had a fast Internet connection at her apartment. Late one night at her place, Saroo launched the program and marveled at its new speed and clarity. “Everyone says, What is meant to be is meant to be. But I don’t believe it,” he later said. “If there’s a means, there’s a way. It’s somewhere there, and if you give up now you’ll always be thinking later on, on your deathbed: Why didn’t I keep trying or at least put more effort into it?”
Rather than searching haphazardly, he realized, he needed to narrow down his range. Drawing from an applied-mathematics course he had taken in college, Saroo reconceived the problem like a question on a standardized test. If he had fallen asleep on the train in the early evening and arrived the next morning in Calcutta, 12 hours had probably passed. If he knew how fast his train was going, he could multiply the speed by the time and determine the rough distance that he had traveled—and search Google Earth locations within that area.
Saroo used Facebook and MySpace to contact four Indian friends he knew from college. He asked them to ask their parents how fast trains traveled in India in the 1980s. Saroo took the average speed—80 kilometers per hour—and, crunching the numbers, determined that he must have boarded the train roughly 960 kilometers from Calcutta.
With the satellite image of India on his screen, he opened an editing program and began slowly drawing a circle with a radius of roughly 960 kilometers, with Calcutta at its center, creating a perimeter within which to search. Then he realized he could narrow it down even further, eliminating the regions that didn’t speak Hindi and those with cold climates. At times in his life, he had been told that his facial structure resembled people from East India, so he decided to focus largely on that part of the circle.
But there were still dozens of twisting tracks to follow, and Saroo began spending hours a night on the trail. He’d fly over India on Google Earth for as much as six hours at a time, sometimes until three or four a.m. He hadn’t yet told his girlfriend or parents what he was doing, partly because he had no idea what, if anything, he might find. “I’d be wondering, you know, What’s he doing?” Lisa recalled. “Come to bed,” she’d say. “You’ve got to be up to work tomorrow morning,” referring to his job at his parents’ company.
Around one a.m. one night, Saroo finally saw something familiar: a bridge next to a large industrial tank by a train station. After months, researching and narrowing his range, Saroo focused in on the outer end of the radius, which was on the west side of India: “Somewhere I never thought to give much attention,” he later said. His heart racing, he zoomed around the screen to find the name of the town and read “Burhanpur.” “I had a shock,” he recalled. This was it, the name of the station where he was separated from his brother that day, a couple hours from his home. Saroo scrolled up the train track looking for the next station. He flew over trees and rooftops, buildings and fields, until he came to the next depot, and his eyes fell on a river beside it—a river that flowed over a dam like a waterfall.
Saroo felt dizzy, but he wasn’t finished yet. He needed to prove to himself that this was really it, that he had found his home. So, he put himself back into the body of the barefoot five-year-old boy under the waterfall: “I said to myself, Well, if you think this is the place, then I want you to prove to yourself that you can make your way back from where the dam is to the city center.”
Saroo moved his cursor over the streets on-screen: a left here, a right there, until he arrived at the heart of the town—and the satellite image of a fountain, the same fountain where he had scarred his leg climbing over the fence 25 years before.
Saroo stumbled to bed at two a.m., too overwhelmed to continue or even look at the name of the town on his screen. He woke five hours later wondering if it had all been a dream. “I think I found my hometown,” he told Lisa, who groggily followed him to his computer to see what he’d found. “I thought to myself, You know, is this real or is it a mirage in the sand?”
The name of the town was Khandwa. Saroo went to YouTube, searching for videos of the town. He found one immediately, and marveled as he watched a train roll through the same station he had departed from with his brother so long ago. Then he took to Facebook, where he found a group called “ ‘Khandwa’ My Home Town.” “can anyone help me,” he typed, leaving a message for the group. “i think im from Khandwa. i havent seen or been back to the place for 24 years. Just wandering if there is a big foutain near the Cinema?”
That night he logged back on to find a response from the page’s administrator. “well we cant tell u exactly . . . . . ,” the administrator replied. “there is a garden near cinema but the fountain is not that much Big.. n the cinema is closed form years.. wel we will try to update some pics . . hope u will recollect some thing … ” Encouraged, Saroo soon posted another question for the group. He had a faint memory of the name of his neighborhood in Khandwa and wanted confirmation. “Can anyone tell me, the name of the town or suburb on the top right hand side of Khandwa? I think it starts with G . . . . . . . . not sure how you spell it, but i think it goes like this (Gunesttellay)? The town is Muslim one side and Hindus on the other which was 24 years ago but might be different now.”
“Ganesh Talai,” the administrator later replied.
Saroo posted one more message to the Facebook group. “Thankyou!” he wrote. “Thats it!! whats quickest way to get to Khandwa if i was flying to India?”
On February 10, 2012, Saroo was looking down on India again—not from Google Earth this time, but from an airplane. The closer the trees below appeared, the more flashbacks of his youth popped into his mind. “I just almost came to the point of getting to tears because those flashes were so extreme,” he recalled.
Though his adoptive father, John, had encouraged Saroo to pursue his quest, his mother was concerned about what he might find. Sue feared that Saroo’s memories of how he went missing may not have been as accurate as he believed. Perhaps his family had sent the boy away on purpose, so that they would have one less mouth to feed. “We knew that this happened quite a lot,” Sue later said, despite Saroo’s insistence that this couldn’t have been the case. “Saroo was quite definite about it,” she went on, “but we did wonder.”
For a moment at the airport, he was hesitant to board the plane. But this was a journey he was determined to complete. He had never really thought about what he would ask his mother if he saw her, but he now knew what he would say: “Did you look for me?”
Tired and drained 20-odd hours later, he was in the back of a taxi pulling into Khandwa. It was a far cry from Hobart. The dusty street teemed with people in flowing dhotis and burkas. Wild dogs and pigs roamed near barefoot children. Saroo found himself at the Khandwa train station, the very platform where he had left with his brother, 25 years before.
The rest of the journey he would undertake on foot. Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, Saroo stood by the station and closed his eyes for a few moments, telling himself to find his path home.
With every step, it felt like two films overlaying, his wispy memories from his childhood and the vital reality now. He passed the café where he used to work selling chai tea. He passed the fountain where he had cut his leg, now run-down and much smaller than he remembered. But despite the familiar landmarks, the town had changed enough that he began to doubt himself.
At last, he found himself standing in front of a familiar mud-brick house with a tin roof.
Saroo felt frozen as memories flickered before him like holograms. He saw himself as a child playing with his kite here during the day with his brother, sleeping outside to escape the heat of summer nights, curled up safely against his mother, looking up at the stars. He didn’t know how long he stood there, but eventually his reverie was broken by a short Indian woman. She held a baby and began speaking to him in a language he could no longer speak or understand.
“Saroo,” he said in his thick Aussie accent, pointing to himself. The town had rarely seen foreigners, and Saroo, dressed in a hoodie and Asics sneakers, seemed lost. He pointed to the house and recited the names of his family members. “Kamala,” he said. “Guddu. Kullu. Shekila.” He showed her the picture of himself as a boy, repeating his name. “These people don’t live here anymore,” she finally said in broken English.
Saroo’s heart sank. Oh my God, he thought, assuming they must be dead. Soon another curious neighbor wandered over, and Saroo repeated his list of names, showing him his picture. Nothing. Another man took the picture from him and examined it for a moment and told Saroo he would be right back.
A few minutes later, the man returned and handed it back to him. “I will take you now to your mother,” the man said. “It’s O.K. Come with me.”
“I didn’t know what to believe,” Saroo remembers thinking. In a daze, he followed the man around the corner; a few seconds later, he found himself in front of a mud-brick house where three women in colorful robes stood. “This is your mother,” the man said.
Which one? Saroo wondered.
Quickly he ran his eyes over the women, who seemed as numb with shock as he was. “I looked at one and I said, ‘No, it’s not you.’ ” Then he looked at another. It may be you, he thought—then reconsidered: No, it’s not you. Then his eyes fell on the weathered woman in the middle. She wore a bright-yellow robe with flowers, and her gray hair, which had been dyed with streaks of orange, was pulled back in a bun.
Without saying anything, the woman stepped forward and hugged him. Saroo couldn’t speak, couldn’t think, couldn’t do much of anything other than reach up his arms and return her embrace. Then his mother took him by the hand and led her son home.
Saroo’s mother went by a new name now, Fatima, a name she’d taken after converting to Islam. She lived alone in a tiny two-room house with an army cot, a gas stove, and a locked trunk for her belongings. She and her son didn’t share the same language, so they spent their time smiling at each other and nodding while Fatima phoned her friends with the amazing news. “The happiness in my heart was as deep as the sea,” Fatima later recalled. Soon a young woman with long black hair, a nose stud, and a brown robe came in with tears in her eyes and threw her arms around him. The family resemblance was visible to everyone there.
It was his younger sister, Shekila. Then came a man a few years older than Saroo, with a mustache and the same wisps of gray in his wavy hair: his brother Kullu. I can see the resemblance! Saroo thought.
He met his niece and nephews, his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, as more and more people crowded into the room. The entire time, his mother remained seated by him holding his hand. Despite the joy, there was skepticism. Some people asked Fatima, “How do you know this is your son?” Saroo’s mother pointed to the scar on his forehead where he had cut himself after being chased by the wild dog long ago. “I was the one who bandaged that up,” she said.
With the help of a friend who spoke English, Saroo told them of his incredible journey. Then he looked his mother in the eyes and asked her, “Did you look for me?” He listened as the woman translated his question, and then came the reply. “Of course,” she said. She had searched for years, following the train tracks leading out of town just as he had sought the ones leading back.
Finally she met with a fortune-teller who told her that she would be re-united with her boy. With that, she found the strength to stop her quest and trust that, one day, she would see her boy’s face again.
Now, hours after his arrival, another question entered Saroo’s mind. Someone was missing, he realized, his eldest brother. “Where is Guddu?” he asked.
His mother’s eyes welled up. “He is no longer,” she said.
“Heaven just fell on me when I heard that,” he recalled. His mother explained that about a month after he had disappeared his brother was found on the train track, his body split in two. No one knew how it had happened. But just like that, in the span of a few weeks, his mother had lost two sons.
With her youngest son by her side again, Fatima prepared his favorite boyhood meal, curried goat. Together the family ate, soaking in this most impossible dream come true.
In a text to his family back in Australia, Saroo wrote, “The questions I wanted answered have been answered. There are no more dead ends. My family is true and genuine, as we are in Australia She has thanked you, mum and dad, for bringing me up. My brother and sister and mum understand fully that you and dad are my family, and they don’t want to intervene in any way. They are happy just knowing that I’m alive, and that’s all they want. I hope you know that you guys are first with me, which will never change. Love you.”
“Darling boy, what a miracle,” Sue wrote to Saroo. “We are happy for you. Take things carefully. We wish we were there with you to support. We can cope with anything for our children, as you have seen for 24 years. Love.”
Saroo remained in Khandwa for 11 days, seeing his family every day and enduring the rush of visitors coming to see the lost boy who had found his way home. As the time grew nearer for him to leave, it became clear that maintaining their new relationship would have its challenges. Fatima wanted her son close to home and tried to persuade Saroo to stay, but he told her that his life remained in Tasmania. When he promised to send $100 a month to cover her living expenses, she bristled at the idea of money substituted for proximity. But, after all these years apart, they were determined not to let such differences get in the way of their relationship; even saying “Hello” on the phone with each other would be more than either mother or son had ever imagined possible.
Before he left Khandwa, however, there was one more place to visit. One afternoon, he took a motorcycle ride with his brother Kullu. Seated behind him, Saroo pointed out the way that he remembered, a left here, a right there, until they stood at the foot of the river, near the dam that flowed like a waterfall.
BBC World Service
13 April 2012
An Indian boy who lost his mother in 1986 has found her 25 years later from his new home in Tasmania – using satellite images.
Saroo was only five years old when he got lost. He was travelling with his older brother, working as a sweeper on India’s trains. « It was late at night. We got off the train, and I was so tired that I just took a seat at a train station, and I ended up falling asleep. »
That fateful nap would determine the rest of his life. « I thought my brother would come back and wake me up but when I awoke he was nowhere to be seen. I saw a train in front of me and thought he must be on that train. So I decided to get on it and hoped that I would meet my brother. »
Saroo did not meet his brother on the train. Instead, he fell asleep and had a shock when he woke up 14 hours later. Though he did not realise it at first, he had arrived in Calcutta, India’s third biggest city and notorious for its slums.
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Saroo Brierley as an adult
I do not think any mother or father would like to have their five year old wandering alone in the slums and train stations of Calcutta”
« I was absolutely scared. I didn’t know where I was. I just started to look for people and ask them questions. »
Soon he was sleeping rough. « It was a very scary place to be. I don’t think any mother or father would like to have their five year old wandering alone in the slums and trains stations of Calcutta. »
The little boy learned to fend for himself. He became a beggar, one of the many children begging on the streets of the city. « I had to be quite careful. You could not trust anyone. » Once he was approached by a man who promised him food and shelter and a way back home. But Saroo was suspicious. « Ultimately I think he was going to do something not nice to me, so I ran away. »
But in the end, he did get off the streets. He was taken in by an orphanage, which put him up for adoption. He was adopted by the Brierleys, a couple from Tasmania. « I accepted that I was lost and that I could not find my way back home, so I thought it was great that I was going to Australia. »
Saroo settled down well in his new home. But as he got older the desire to find his birth family became increasingly strong. The problem was that as an illiterate five-year-old he had not known the name of the town he had come from. All he had to go on were his vivid memories. So he began using Google Earth to search for where he might have been born.
« It was just like being Superman. You are able to go over and take a photo mentally and ask, ‘Does this match?’ And when you say, ‘No’, you keep on going and going and going. »
Eventually Saroo hit on a more effective strategy. « I multiplied the time I was on the train, about 14 hours, with the speed of Indian trains and I came up with a rough distance, about 1,200km. »
He drew a circle on a map with its centre in Calcutta, with its radius about the distance he thought he had travelled. Incredibly, he soon discovered what he was looking for: Khandwa. « When I found it, I zoomed down and bang, it just came up. I navigated it all the way from the waterfall where I used to play. »
Soon he made his way to Khandwa, the town he had discovered online. He found his way around the town with his childhood memories. Eventually he found his own home in the neighbourhood of Ganesh Talai. But it was not what he had hoped for. « When I got to the door I saw a lock on it. It look old and battered, as if no-one had lived there for quite a long time. »
Saroo had a photograph of himself as a child and he still remembered the names of his family. A neighbour said that his family had moved.
« Another person came and then a third person turned up, and that is when I struck gold. He said, ‘Just wait here for a second and I shall be back.’ And when he did come back after a couple of minutes he said, ‘Now I will be taking you to your mother.' »
« I just felt numb and thought, ‘Am I hearing what I think I am hearing?' »
Saroo was taken to meet his mother who was nearby. At first he did not recognise her.
« 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.’
« She grabbed my hand and took me to her house. She could not say anything to me. I think she was as numb as I was. She had a bit of trouble grasping that her son, after 25 years, had just reappeared like a ghost. »
Although she had long feared he was dead, a fortune teller had told Saroo’s mother that one day she would see her son again. « I think the fortune teller gave her a bit of energy to live on and to wait for that day to come. »
And what of the brother with whom Saroo had originally gone travelling? Unfortunately, the news was not good. « A month after I had disappeared my brother was found in two pieces on a railway track. » His mother had never known whether foul play was involved or whether the boy had simply slipped and fallen under a train.
« We were extremely close and when I walked out of India the tearing thing for me was knowing that my older brother had passed away. »
For years Saroo Brierley went to sleep wishing he could see his mother again and his birth family. Now that he has, he feels incredibly grateful. He has kept in touch with his newly found family.
« It has taken the weight off my shoulders. I sleep a lot better now. »
And there is something to make him sleep better – with memories of Slumdog Millionaire still fresh, publishers and film producers are getting interested in his incredible story.
Saroo Brierley spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service
Lost and found
Saroo Brierley as a child
1981: Saroo is born
1986: He loses his family and ends up living on the streets of Calcutta
1987: He is adopted by an Australian couple and grows up in Tasmania
2011: He finds his home town on Google Earth
2012: He is reunited with his mother in Khandwa
Web me I’m famous
19 mars 2012
Google is watching you ? Why not ?! Parlons un peu des choses qui fâchent, en l’occurrence, parlons des sanctions potentielles données notre cher Google (tout puissant…) à tout propriétaire d’un site internet de « mauvaise qualité ».
Je ne vais pas vous énumérer dans cet article toutes les sanctions susceptibles de subir un site au cours de sa vie mais plutôt pour vous parler d’un vécu.
A ce propos, je vous conseille fortement d’aller lire les recommandations du moteur de recherche Google, si ce n’est pas déjà fait. Il vaut mieux prévenir que guérir…
Google par ci, Google par là… Google sait faire peur ! Mais en a t’il les moyens ? Nous pouvons lire ces temps-ci un peu partout sur la toile des articles et posts de panique des propriétaires de sites impactés (ou non…).
Google, pas content ?
En tant que consultant en référencement il m’arrive de tester les « limites » de Google. Il s’est avéré il y a quelques jours qu’un de mes sites persos (non non je ne fais pas de test sur des sites « client ») n’était pas en règle !
Que me reprochait exactement Google ? Des liens factices… Echanges de liens… Vente de liens… Bla bla… Voilà ce que celui-ci me reprochait dans un email envoyé sur mon espace Google Webmaster Tools :
un gentil email de Google
Fondé ou non les propos de Google ? J’en doute… D’ailleurs je ne suis pas seul à en douter puisque vous allez pouvoir lire de nombreux posts de forum traitant des pénalités de Google, dont celle-ci…
Google a tué mon site…
Je ne vous donnerai pas l’adresse du site en question mais pour vous situer le sujet voici quelques renseignements :
– quelques centaines de pages
– 150 / 300 mots par page
– entre 0 et 2 lien(s) sortant(s) par page
– publication d’une à 2 nouvelle(s) page(s) par jour
– nom de domaine ancien (>5 ans)
– pagerank de 4
– 3 échanges de liens effectués en footer (home uniquement et triangulaire)
– contenu unique
– référencement tranquille ‘white hat’ (communiqué de press, digg, annuaire…)
La chronologie des faits
La pénalité vue par Google Analytics
Je vais vous retracer la chronologie des faits en quelques mots :
07.03.12 : chute du trafic de 500 à 250 visiteurs / jour (la plupart de mes positions chutent : 1 ou 2 pages)
08.03.12 : réception du mail de Google (Google Webmaster Tools)
10.03.12 : suppression des échanges de liens (footer)
11.03.12 : réponse par l’envoi d’un mail (« non je n’effectue pas de vente de liens », j’explique le but du site…) et demande de réexaminer le site
18.03.12 : augmentation du trafic de 250 à 500 visiteurs / jour (une semaine après l’envoi de l’email)
19.03.12 : ouf la tendance se confirme
A ce jour, aucune nouvelle de Google, qui aurait pu au passage me tenir informé de l’avancé du problème.
Que faut-il retenir de cette sanction ? Google est-il vraiment méchant ?
Google vous surveille… Disons qu’il y a forcément de leur coté des indicateurs de qualité d’un site puis intervention d’un humain pour rétrograder vos positions ou tout simplement vous blacklister en cas de gros défaut.
Son temps de réaction est variable, pour ma part il aura été très correct (1 semaine).
Comme il vaut mieux vaut prévenir que guérir, voici quelques conseils :
n’hésitez pas à lire les recommandations de qualité d’un site fournis par Google. (au moins vous serez prévenu !)
retournez sur votre site pour vérifier que celui-ci répond bien à toutes les exigences du grand maitre Google !
inscrivez votre site sur Google Webmaster Tools pour recevoir ce genre d’email en cas de pépin.
dormez sur vos deux oreilles… Google n’est pas si méchant !
Avez vous déjà reçu des mails de Google pour sanction ? Avez vous réussi à vous sortir de cette mauvaise passe ? Au bout de combien de temps ? Google vous a t’il toujours donné les causes d’une sanction ?