As annoying as Google may sometimes be—yes, I mentioned my dog snoring in an email, but that does not mean all of the ads I see for the next three years should assume I have sleep apnea!—there are many things it's given us that are extremely cool. One of those things is Google Earth, which is awesome in its own right but has now helped a man reunite with his long lost mother.
The man, Saroo, was just five when he got separated from his family 25 years ago. He was traveling with his older brother, and they were working as sweepers on trains in India. They got off the train one night, Saroo fell asleep, and when he woke up his brother was gone. He saw a train in front of him, so he hopped on it thinking his brother must be onboard and that he'd find him. When he didn't find his brother, he again fell asleep, and this time he woke up 14 hours later to find himself in faraway Calcutta. Jeeze, after so much heartache caused by falling asleep, it's a miracle Saroo was ever able to sleep again.
Saroo says, "I was absolutely scared. I didn't know where I was. I just started to look for people and ask them questions." He ended up living on the streets, begging and fending for himself, until he was taken in by an orphanage. He was then adopted by a family from Tasmania named the Brierleys, of which he says, "I accepted that I was lost and that I could not find my way back home, so I thought it was great that I was going to Australia."
As much as Saroo enjoyed his new life, he always dreamed of finding his birth family. Though he didn't really know where to look, since he was only five and unable to read when he got lost. Thus he literally had no idea where he came from. Eventually, he began using Google Earth and his childhood memories of the landscape to try to locate places where he might have been born. To figure out where to look, he had a smart idea: "I multiplied the time I was on the train, about 14 hours, with the speed of Indian trains and I came up with a rough distance, about 1,200km." He then drew a circle with that radius on a map and searched within that zone. He soon figured out, amazingly, exactly where he'd been born, a town called Khandwa. He says, "When I found it, I zoomed down and bang, it just came up. I navigated it all the way from the waterfall where I used to play."
He traveled back to his homeland and went looking for his relatives. He found his old house locked up and abandoned, but after talking to a neighbor, he eventually was reunited with his mother. He says she didn't look at all like what he expected—since she was so much older than the last time he'd seen her—but he immediately recognized her. She was shocked to see him after all the years, having assumed he'd died long ago:
She grabbed my hand and took me to her house. She could not say anything to me. I think she was as numb as I was. She had a bit of trouble grasping that her son, after 25 years, had just reappeared like a ghost.
Sadly, the brother who'd disappeared on that fateful day two and a half decades ago had been found dead—run over by a train—about a month after Saroo had gone missing. He was torn up to learn of his brother's passing, but he now stays in touch with his family and feels very grateful to have found them. He says, "It has taken the weight off my shoulders. I sleep a lot better now." No doubt. It's amazing what a difference a little technology can make in peoples' lives. Just think how much more difficult, if not impossible, his search would have been even a decade ago.
Image via aodaodaodaod/Shutterstock.