After miracle reunion, Indian mom, son find divide

By Ravi Nessman

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, June 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

She had been young, in her thirties, the last time he saw her. She looked so much older now. But behind the weathered face, there was something unmistakable. Unforgettable.

Mother. His mother.

Fatima was still sitting on her doorstep when she heard the words she always knew would come, but couldn't believe were actually being spoken.

"Your Saroo is back," a neighbor screamed, running toward her.

Fatima walked down her alley and saw a mob of people walking up the road as if in a procession. In the middle stood a man calling out the names of her family.

Of his family.

He rushed to her, and she to him. They grabbed each other and hugged tightly. He couldn't find words, so he just held her.

The scar from the long-ago horse kick was still there in his forehead, and he had the same chin dimple that marked all her children, but Fatima would have recognized him anyway, even though he was now 30. She led him by the hand to her new home and hugged him for what felt like an hour, cried and caressed his head.

"My Saroo is back," she said. "The almighty has finally answered my prayers. He has brought the joy back. He has finally brought my Saroo back."

Saroo was overwhelmed. Tears slid down his face.

He wanted to know whether Fatima had looked for him. She told him about her search and how she had never given up hope. He told her that when he went through tough times, he would think of his family in India and go into a corner and cry. Saroo was devastated to learn about his brother Guddu's grisly death on the train tracks.

Fatima called Kallu and Shakila with the news of their brother's return. Kallu raced over on his motorcycle.

"You will be happy now," he told his mother. "Your son is back."

Saroo broke away to call his girlfriend. Lisa Williams, who had spent endless nights watching him hunt online for his hometown, was still asleep when the phone rang. Saroo had done it: He had found his family.

Williams shot out of bed. "What?!" she screamed. He repeated the words. She began to dance around the room. Closure, she thought. At last.

Closure is complicated.

Saroo's questions about his family's fate were answered, but new ones about how to deal with the future took their place.

Fatima's quest was over too, but how much did her lost son want to be in her life? Enough to satisfy a mother who never gave up on finding him?

Can a mother and son ripped apart, separated by decades, thousands of miles and different cultures, fit back together again?

Their first problem: They couldn't communicate.

Fatima was illiterate and knew no English. Saroo remembered only a tiny handful of Hindi words. It took them hours to find a neighbor to translate.

Over the next few days, they communicated through hand gestures. Not understanding anything happening around him, Saroo would sit quietly and watch his family. If an English speaker dropped by, they would chat.

He was unfamiliar in other ways as well. He drank bottled water so he wouldn't get sick from the hose everyone else drank from outside. Fatima worried that he wouldn't like the food she made, though he said it was fine. Even his name was strange. They pronounced it 'SHEH roo' in keeping with the local Hindi dialect; He had anglicized it to 'SAH roo.'

They hired a photographer to document their reunion. In one photo, Fatima, wearing a sari, tenderly cradles his face in her hand and kisses his cheek. Saroo, wearing a pink T-shirt and jeans, smiles wide and looks at the camera.

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