SALT LAKE CITY — Saroo Brierley, whose life became the inspiration for the 2016 Oscar-nominated film "Lion," share a message of soldiering on at RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Friday. Brierley described his life as "a story of hope" and that after many trials and tribulations, "miracles can happen," he told the packed audience.
Twenty-nine years ago, at age 5, Saroo left his slum suburb in India and followed his older brother to a local train station. After falling asleep on the train platform, Saroo became separated from his brother.
After leaving the train station, Saroo spent weeks wandering. From almost drowning in a river, to almost being taken prisoner, Saroo ended up at local police station where officers started to advertise his name in the local paper. There was no response.
Saroo was eventually turned over to the Indian Society of Sponsorship and Adoption, where he stayed for a few months before being adopted by Sue and John Brierley.
Though Brierley loved his new life in Australia with his adopted parents, he said there was still a nagging void.
"I had this feeling of nostalgia, the feeling of being stuck between a rock and a hard place," Brierley said. "I often thought, 'Is there ever a way of finding my family?'"
Finally, in his early 20s, Brierley decided to do something about it. He started compiling information, detailing everything he could remember from his hometown: Were there hills or mountains? What kinds of animals were there? What kind of cultural events, etc.
With the help of Google Earth, Brierley finally had a breakthrough in his yearslong search. He was looking for a specific train station in India with a water tower on the left, a ravine further on, a bridge and a train station on the right-hand side. Brierley described his search as trying to "find a needle in a haystack."
"I zoomed in on this train station and it looked exactly the way I remembered it," he said.
Brierley had finally found his home, but it wasn't without sacrifice.
"My friends were telling me, 'You should give up Saroo, that's in the past,'" Brierley said. "But in order for me to go forward, I had to go back."
With that, Brierley hopped on a plane to Khandwa, India, and when he returned to his hometown, it was like he never left.
"The muscle memory in my leg decided to follow a path, and within about 30 minutes, I was standing outside the house where I was born," he said.
Brierley was reunited with his mother after 26 years of searching. In a subsequent "60 Minutes" documentary, Saroo's biological mother and his adopted mother met for the first time, something he will never forget.
"The fusion elements of hope, determination, sheer grit and being fierce is how I managed to do I what I did," he said. " … I took a chance, and created a difference."
Brierley also wrote a bestselling book entitled "A Long Way Home: A Memoir," which was the basis for the 2016 movie "Lion."
Though initially hesitant to tell his story, Brierley realized it was a story that needed to be told.
"There must be other people in the world in a similar situation, and if you've got knowledge and information to empower, then why not share it.
"Never give up hope, that's something massive," he continued. "If you lose hope, you lose everything. I never lost hope. I soldiered on."