Monday, April 16, 2012

Long lost, a man is reunited with his mother using Google Earth and still-present memories

Using Google Earth and some unforgotten memories, a man has managed to find his way back to his mother, whom he had not seen in more than a quarter of a century.

In 1986, at the age of 5, Saroo Brierley was traveling with his older brother, who was working as a sweeper on India's train system. He got separated from his brother, however, and wound up getting on the wrong train. He ended up in Calcutta, India's third-largest city.

With no friends and no relatives, Saroo ended up as a beggar, but he was eventually taken in by an orphanage. From there, he was adopted by the Brierleys, a couple from Tasmania. Saroo said,

"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."

As with many adopted children, though, as he grew older, Saroo became interested in finding his roots again. He did not know the name of his town he had come from, but he still had his memories. So he went to Google Earth to try to find landmarks and his home town, but it was frustratingly hard.

Then, using a little math, as well, he made his search a lot easier. Knowing the average speed of Indian trains, multiplied it by the time he remembered being on the train which arrived in Calcutta, 14 hours, and drew a circle around Calcutta on a map with that distance as a radius.

He soon discovered the town of 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." The waterfall is shown by the red arrow in the image above.

When he went to Khandwa, his memories guided him to his old home in the neighborhood of Ganesh Talai, but the door was padlocked. He discovered that his family had moved.

Finally, someone came by who could take him to his mother. While after all this time he did not recognize her, after a time, her facial structure was enough for him to definitely say, "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."

Sadly, the tale of his older brother did not end as well. "A month after I had disappeared my brother was found in two pieces on a railway track." It was never determined if foul play was involved or if his brother had simply slipped and been run over by a train.

Google might be happy to know some free publicity may come of this, and not just by written news of the happy ending. Reportedly, publishers and film producers are interested in Saroo's amazing story.

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