Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Real-life fairy tale story: Indian boy goes missing, gets adopted in Australia, returns a millionaire after 25 years

It is one of the most amazing real life stories. The story of five-year-old 'Sheru', who had got lost after his elder brother's death, ended in an orphanage in Kolkata, from where he got adopted by an Australian couple.

Sheru, a Muslim boy, who had become Saroo, by then, had forgotten a lot but had certain faint memories about his childhood, the slum in Khandwa [Madhya Pradesh], where he lived, about his mother Fatima alias Kamla, and his brother.
Educated, ready to take on his father's business, he tried to keep the memories of the distant land of his birth alive, so that he could one day meet his parents and real family.

Poring over Google Earth for years, he finally reached the railway station near which his family lived. The name 'Khandwa' rang the bell.

Years later, he returned home, and hugged his mother though she couldn't understand his language now, and he had forgotten his Hindustani [Hindi, Urdu]. He got to know that his elder brother was no more.

This real slumdog millionaire story has caught the imagination of innumerable people in the Central Indian state and whoever saw or heard of the reunion got affected by the saga. All these years his mother had been hoping that someday her lost son would return. At the Patthar Wale Baba's mazaar [shrine] in Burhanpur, she had made numerous trips.

She also went to Hindu saints and other Muslim fakirs. God answered her prayers. Albeit 25 years later. But the son was now back, a foreign babu. Once he stepped out of the railway platform a quarter century later, the past flashed into his mind. He straight walked to the area where his home was located.

Local residents, neighbours and denizens of Khandwa turned emotional when they saw the reunion. Saroo has left for Austrailia but will be back soon again. Family members say that he intends to learn the language also and would be visiting his family on a regular basis.

The Mercury reports: "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," he said. The memories helped him track down his family. For the past 10 years, Mr Brierley has scrolled the internet for clues.

The mother-son reunion after 25 long years
"Using Google Earth, I spent so many hours zooming in and out looking for something I recognised," he said.

He created a Facebook group about the locality in the town & interacted with people to get an idea and to ascertain if it was exactly the place he belonged to.

The quest ended finally. The boy had discovered his roots. He took the ticket, permission from his parents [the Australian couple who had adopted him] and headed back to India, to meet his family.

Sheru was third among four siblings viz. Salim, Guddu, Sheru and Shakila. The boys came from poor family but had self-respect.

As Fatima's husband had left her and married another woman, she had a hard time raising the four children. Instead of working as rag-pickers, the elder boy would sell 'datun' [twig used to clean teeth in rural India] and Sheru would sweep compartments in the train and would get money in return from passengers.

What An Amazing Saga

One day in October 1987, the brothers didn't return in the evening. After a long search, the body of Guddu was found near the track. There was no news about Sheru. The family searched for him up to Mumbai in the West, up to Delhi in the North and as far as Nagpur & Hyderabad in the South but to no avail.

On February 12, 2012 Saroo Brierley from Tasmania, who had taken a flight from Australia, arrived in Delhi. He took next flight to Indore [in Madhya Pradesh] and then reached Ganesh Talai, the Muslim dominated locality in Khandwa. After reaching the main square, there was sudden brightness in his eyes.

Saroo saw the mosque and its 'kangure' [motifs]. Now he knew he was home. Someone else now lived in this house. The house owner couldn't understand English. But Ghaffar Miyan, an elder, caught the word 'mother', which Sheru was repeating again and again, asking 'I am looking for my mother and brother'.

Ghaffar Miyan immediately took him to the house where the family had shifted. Once Fatima heard about her son's arrival, she jumped off her bed and rushed towards the mosque. Sheru immediately recognised her. Later a youth who understood English was called and thus began the conversation that continued for hours.


"I was sitting near the door of the compartment and fell asleep. When I woke up Guddu was not around. Id didn't know what to do then. I was crying. Train kept running and running and then reached a big station, the next day.

I got down but could not understand the language. A woman later took me to a place where there were many kids and was given food and taught", Saroo alias Sheru told the family now through the interpreter.

Then & Now: Once he could only peep in, today he flies back
"I don't know how much time I lived there. One day the teacher introduced me to a couple and said that they were my parents now. They gave me clean dress and took me along in an aeroplane. I was admitted in a school, and a teacher would come at home for my education. Later, I got admission in school and a driver was deputed for ferrying me".

"As I got older, my parents handed me the fisheries business. They told me about the organisation I was adopted from in Calcutta. When I expressed my intention to find out my roots, they encouraged me. My father John and mother Sui are great people".

"I didn't remember much about my childhood. But the images of carrying my sister Shakila on my shoulders, meandering in the lanes of Ganesh Talai, sweeping the train bogeys and face of my mother apart from my brother Kallu scolding me would come back to haunt me."

"For two years I sat for hours on internet and would trace all rail routes, looking at stations. My father, John, advised me to take my childhood photo along. I would learn Hindustani and would return soon so that I could talk to my mother to my heartfelt contentment".

Shakila, who was married a few years ago, came back to meet her lost brother. One of his childhood friend, Aleem, also met him. Sheru's brother Kallu says that prayers at Burhanpur's mazaar had to work. "We put hands on the four stones and they turned. We knew then only that he would return".

"Allah unko duniya ki badshaahat de", says Kallu, wishing his Australian brother more success in life. One only marvels at the luck of the family and the destiny of the boy. If only all the missing children would return to their parents, the world would have been so beautiful.

[Part of the report from inputs by local residents, newspapers and Dr Devendra Sahu, Dainik Jagran's correspondent]

The fascinating story has been reported in international press and in a few publications in India also. It is really an awesome real life incident that can bring tears to anybody. It can be inspiration for a Bollywood thriller [even a Hollywood] movie with all the necessary human emotions in abundance.

[Photo courtesy The Mercury]
[*Fatima alias Kamla. In poor families in certain parts, there is not much thought before naming a kid,'s  especially the girl. Hence, often the name, either first name or second name and even aliases could be of any of the communities]