Australia to India, via Google Earth

An adopted Australian businessman seeks his home town through use of Google Earth’s satellite mapping technology.

Saroo Brierley was born in India, and at the age of five he took a train ride with his brother in a search for food. He fell asleep where upon waking, the carriage was empty. Alone in Calcutta he spent weeks wandering around, trying to find food and shelter, until he was given a life that many impoverished Indians covet.

Brierley had been adopted into an Australian family, returning everyday to his room where his new mother had placed a map of India; one that he would wake up to every morning.

Four years ago, Saroo graduated from college and attempted finding his birth mother using nothing but his memory and Google Earth. Starting at Calcutta’s train station, he followed every track out of the city for weeks on end, but to no avail. Brierley was so disheartened that he halted the virtual search for 3 years until finding the updated Google Earth, with both improved speed and clarity.

Having taken a mathematics course in college, he figured that if he had slept from the early evening, waking in the morning, around 12 hours must have passed. Combining this with the formula ‘distance = speed x time taken’, Saroo asked his Indian friends from college to ask their parents how fast trains travelled in 1980s India. After coming up with a figure, Brierley drew a circle with a radius of 960 kilometres with Calcutta in the centre. He then labelled villages and cities on his map, eliminating places where Hindi was not spoken and those with colder climates.

After many nights of fevered searching, Brierley recognised something, zooming in until his heart stopped at the word “Burhanpur”. Exploring the area he stumbled across a fountain, on which he had scraped his knee almost 25 years ago. Although just pixels on a screen, to Saroo it was his childhood for which the map in his room had served as a constant reminder. Following much research involving talking to strangers online, and watching videos on YouTube, Brierley had found his neighbourhood – Ganesh Talai.

In February 2012, Saroo was once again flying over India; only this time it was real. He was reunited with his mother who said that she had followed the train tracks out of town in searching for him, just as he had followed them back in. Unfortunately, his brother was found dead on the tracks a month after their disappearance.

Today, Saroo Brierley is a businessman residing in Australia where he sends money to his family, ensuring his mother is well looked after.

For years, Saroo had felt lost and knew he had a home away from home, it just took technology 4 years to catch up with his determination to find the truth.

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