Sheru Munshi Khan
c.1981 (age 39–40)
|Occupation||Businessman and author|
|A Long Way Home|
Saroo Brierley (born c. 1981) is an Indian-born Australian businessman, author and philanthropist who at the age of five was accidentally separated from his biological family. He was adopted by an Australian couple but was reunited with his biological mother 25 years later after finding his hometown via Google Earth. His story generated significant international media attention, especially in Australia and India.
An autobiographical account of his experiences, A Long Way Home, was published in 2013 in Australia, released internationally in 2014, and adapted into the 2016 Oscar-nominated film Lion, starring Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel as Saroo, David Wenham as his adoptive father, John Brierley and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother, Sue Brierley.
Saroo Brierley was born Sheru Munshi Khan in Ganesh Talai, a suburb within Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. When he was young, his father left his mother, throwing the family into poverty. His mother worked in construction to support herself and her children but often did not make enough money to feed them all, and could not afford to send them to school. At age five, Saroo and his elder brothers, Guddu and Kallu, began begging at the railway station for food and money. Guddu sometimes obtained work sweeping the floors of train carriages. One evening, Guddu said he was going to ride the train from Khandwa to the city of Burhanpur, 70 kilometres (43 mi) to the south. Saroo asked his older brother if he could go, too. Guddu reluctantly agreed. By the time the train reached Burhanpur, Saroo was so tired he collapsed onto a seat on the platform. Guddu told his little brother to wait and promised to be back shortly.
Guddu did not return, and Saroo eventually became impatient. He noticed a train parked in the station and, thinking his brother was on it, boarded an empty carriage. He found there were no doors to the adjoining carriages. Hoping his brother would come for him, he fell asleep. When he awoke, the train was travelling across an unfamiliar area. Occasionally the train stopped at small stations, but Saroo was unable to open the door to escape. Saroo's rail journey eventually ended at the huge Howrah railway station in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata), and he fled when someone opened the door to his carriage. Saroo did not know it at the time, but he was nearly 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) from his hometown. On the same night as his separation from his brother, unbeknownst to Saroo, Guddu was hit and killed by an oncoming train.
Saroo attempted to return home by boarding different trains, but they proved to be suburban trains and each one eventually took him back to Howrah railway station. For a week or two, he lived on and around Howrah railway station. He survived by scavenging scraps of food in the street and sleeping underneath the station's seats. Eventually, he ventured out into the city; and, after days of homelessness on Calcutta's streets, he was found by a railway worker who took him in and gave him food and shelter. But Saroo fled when the railway worker showed Saroo to a friend and Saroo sensed that something was not right. The two men chased after him, but he managed to escape.
Saroo eventually met a teenager who took him to a police station and reported that he might be a lost child. The police took Saroo to a government centre for abandoned children. Weeks later, he was moved to the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption. The staff there attempted to locate his family. But Saroo did not know enough for them to sufficiently trace his hometown, and he was officially declared a lost child. He was subsequently adopted by the Brierley family of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
In the meantime, his mother, Kamla Munshi, searched for her two sons. A few weeks after her sons failed to return home, police informed her that Guddu's body had been found near the railway tracks, having been killed by an oncoming train a kilometre (0.6 mi) from Burhanpur station. She then confined her energy to looking for Saroo, travelling to different places on trains.
Saroo grew up in Hobart in an Australian family. His Australian parents adopted another Indian boy, Mantosh. Saroo learned English and soon forgot Hindi. Saroo originated as a mispronunciation of his given name, Sheru.
He studied business and hospitality at the Australian International Hotel School in Canberra. As an adult, he spent around 9,855 hours for three years conducting searches using the satellite images on Google Earth, painstakingly following railway lines radiating out from Howrah railway station. He relied on his vague memories of the main features around Burhanpur railway station, although he knew little of the name of the station except that it began with the letter B. Late one night in 2011, he came upon a small railway station that closely matched his childhood recollection of where he had become trapped in an empty carriage; the name of this station was Burhanpur, very close to a phonetic spelling of the name he remembered from his childhood ordeal. He followed the satellite images of the railway line north and found the town of Khandwa. He had no recollection of that name, but the town contained recognizable features, such as a fountain near the train tracks where he used to play. He was able to trace a path through the streets to what appeared to be the place where he and his family used to live.
Following up on a lead, Saroo contacted a Facebook group based in Khandwa. The Facebook group reinforced his belief that Khandwa might be his hometown.
In 2012, Saroo travelled to Khandwa in India and asked residents if they knew of any family that had lost their son 25 years ago. He showed photographs of himself as a child in Hobart. Local people soon led him to his mother. He was also reunited with his sister, Shekila, and his surviving brother, Kallu, who were now a schoolteacher and factory manager, respectively. With the loss of Saroo and Guddu, their mother had been able to afford to send the other two to school. The reunion was extensively covered by Indian and international media.
Saroo continues to live in Hobart. He and his Indian family are now able to communicate regularly, taking advantage of a computer at the home of one of Kallu's neighbours. He bought his mother a house, so she no longer has to work.
Saroo has returned to India and visited his biological family over a dozen times. He also travelled first class on the Kolkata Mail, a train service from Mumbai to Kolkata, to re-trace his journey of a quarter century earlier. He later returned to Australia.
In 2013, Saroo published his book, A Long Way Home (Penguin Australia), describing his ordeal as a lost five-year-old, his adoption by an Australian family, and his search for his Indian family.
A 2016 film based on his life, Lion, directed by Garth Davis and starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham and Rooney Mara, premiered to rave reviews and "Oscar buzz" at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, though it ultimately did not win an Oscar in any of the six categories for which it was nominated. Saroo was portrayed in the film by Dev Patel, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and newcomer Sunny Pawar. In April 2019, he announced that he is conducting a search for his father who left him and his family when he was a young child.