After miracle reunion, Indian mom, son find divide

By Ravi Nessman

Associated Press

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

Their 10 days together went by so fast — too fast. Local media kept trying to interview him. Neighbors stopped by to meet the boy who had miraculously returned. There was little time for the family to be alone.

Suddenly, Fatima was standing with Saroo outside the airport terminal, wanting to drag him back home with her. He said goodbye, then walked inside to check in. It wasn't long before he came back out, to see if she was still there. She was, and waited with him until he finally had to leave. He promised he would return.

In Tasmania, Saroo faced more changes. The media frenzy over his story intensified. He hired an agent to juggle interview requests. Movie producers began calling. Publishing houses battled over the book rights.

He went back to work at his family's hose supply business, and hunted for a house with his girlfriend. He turned off his phone at night to silence the relentless ringing.

He began sending Fatima $100 a month, so she could quit her job cleaning homes and washing dishes that pays her about 1,500 rupees ($30) a month. But she hasn't quit her job and hasn't touched the money he put in her bank account. She insists she won't take his money unless he gives it to her in person.

She seems to want him to care for his mother as a good Indian boy should, seeing to her every need, following her commands and revering her above any job, girlfriend or wife. That's what many sons are brought up to do in India. Not in Australia.

She still lives in her tiny concrete home with peeling whitewash and a roof of bamboo and corrugated metal, surviving on subsidized grain, near-rotten onions she buys at a discount and stale bread she softens in lentil stew. She frets that her poverty might embarrass Saroo or his Australian parents.

The gulf between mother and son remains vast.

Fatima and Shakila beg a visitor to call Saroo for them.

The conversation, through a translator, begins like so many other mother-son calls. She asks if he is eating. Then she complains he doesn't call enough.

"Why don't you talk to us?" she asks. "At least ask how your mother is doing."

They don't speak the same language, so what's the point in calling, he says. When he does call, he has trouble getting through. Meanwhile, his sister calls him, sometimes in the middle of work, sometimes in the middle of the night. She never speaks, he says, frustrated. It's like a crank call.

Fatima says she left him a message and cried when he didn't call her back. The ache for her son is clear in her voice.

Saroo insists he sends text messages to his brother to have translated and passed on to her.

"I'm not able to talk to them all the time, it's just hard for me," he says.

She grows sarcastic.

"Take care of the family you are staying with, don't bother with this family here," she says.

They need to understand the difficult position he is in, he says.

"I've got to be very careful with everything, you see. I don't want to upset my family here and give too much attention to my family in India," he says.

Then he announces he is coming back. He is getting money together and is going to buy her a house.

"No, no!" she says angrily. Don't bother coming. I will go away for a few months and no one will be here to see you, she says, voice dripping with acid.

"Just stay calm and be happy that I'm alive and you know where I am," he says in exasperation.

Fatima is in such a fury, the translator stops interpreting her words. Her rage is incomprehensible to her perplexed son.

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