A long road home for lost Indian boy

It took 25 years for Mother, son to find each other

By Kristen Gelineau And Ravi Nessman

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 9 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

When night fell and her boys still weren't home, Fatima panicked. She took a neighbor she called Uncle Akbar to the station to look for them, but most of the trains had already come and gone. They searched the nearby market where the boys would beg. She went to the fountain where they liked to play.

By morning, her body felt like it was on fire. Her mind raced.

Maybe they had been kidnapped.

Maybe they were lost.

Maybe they were dead.

She had never been on a train before, but she and Uncle Akbar rode to Burhanpur and Bhusawal, asking police if they had seen her sons. She widened her search to bigger and further cities.

She cried and prayed for their safe return at the holy crypt of the Sufi Muslim saint Tekri Wale Baba. She approached another mystic said to channel the dead saint's spirit.

"There are no longer two flowers," he said. "One flower has fallen, the other has gone to a far off place. He doesn't remember where he is from. He will come back, but only after a long, long time."

She didn't believe him. Her boys were going to be fine.

Then she ran into a police officer she knew.

Guddu was dead, he said.

The boy had either fallen off the train or been pushed. Police took photos of the mangled but still identifiable body found by the tracks, and then cremated him.

Fatima fainted.

Miserable, Saroo walked across a bridge to the other side of the Ganges, where he met another man who spoke Hindi. This man took him to a government center for abandoned children. The workers fed him, then moved him to a larger holding area, swarming with lost youngsters.

It was hell. The bigger kids picked on him. No one spoke Hindi. He tried to explain who he was, but it was hopeless.

Weeks later, a staffer told him he was moving again. He was cleaned up, dressed up and transported to the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption.

This place was heaven. There were around 15 children, and no one bullied him. He even made friends. He had a comfortable bed, fresh clothes, plenty of food.

The staff hunted for his family, using the scraps of information Saroo remembered. But it wasn't enough. The government declared him a lost child.

Months went by. Then one day, a worker approached him with news.

A new family wanted him. And they lived in a place called Australia.

Where was Saroo, Fatima thought. Her happy son, who would accompany her to work sites and build little roads out of rock. Her sweet boy who insisted his baby sister sit next to him at every meal. She had nursed him through eight days of high fever after he was kicked in the face by a horse, she wouldn't give up now.

She and Uncle Akbar, a Muslim holy man, took to the rails again. He begged for food for their survival. She was repeatedly cornered by passengers, police officers and rail workers who tried to rape her. She would cry and beg for mercy, she was just a mother looking for her missing son, take pity.

They searched the train stations of Bhopal and Sikanderabad, the police stations in Hyderabad, the jails in Bombay. They visited cities three or four times, talking to anyone who might have seen her missing son.

But she never went as far as Calcutta.

She couldn't imagine he had gone so far.

Saroo was zooming through the clouds toward an island called Tasmania. He chewed anxiously on a chocolate bar and thought about the new family waiting for him. The adoption agency had given him an album with photos of his new parents, his new house, his new dad's car. His new life.

When the plane landed, he was escorted to a VIP area and spotted his adoptive parents. He was nervous and shy; they were patient and kind. They went through his photo album, then took him to his new home.

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