A Long Way Home

by

Saroo Brierley

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A Long Way Home: 10. Meeting My Mother Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Saroo lands in Indore on February 11, 2012, he feels like an outsider immediately—he doesn’t speak Hindi at all, struggles to escape insistent taxi drivers, and feels as though the streets look much dirtier than he remembers. When he arrives at the hotel, he sleeps for a few hours and then hires a driver to take him to Khandwa. He wonders if there’s a reason his driver charges so little: the drive is terrifying, even by Indian standards. When they finally reach the outskirts of Khandwa, Saroo feels cold when he doesn’t recognize it at all. He asks the driver to head for the train station first.
Saroo will say it explicitly later, but returning to India doesn't actually change or complicate his identity—he still identifies as an Australian (just with Indian roots), as reinforced here by the immense culture shock he experiences upon landing. Khandwa is still a relatively large city (200,000 people in 2011), so it's misguided to think that Saroo would've been intimately familiar with all of it.
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Fortunately, Saroo is able to direct the driver to the station by memory. Though it looks a bit different, it is indeed the correct station, and Saroo has his bearings in town. Feeling suddenly exhausted, Saroo asks the driver to take him to the hotel. On the drive there, he thinks the streets look shabbier than he remembers. He inadvertently offends the driver by not tipping him, and feels horrible as he checks in and collapses on his bed. However, Saroo can’t settle. Finally, he decides to go back out.
Again, these moments of culture shock and adjusting poorly reinforce that Saroo is absolutely Australian; discovering his hometown doesn't change that. The moments when Saroo does feel at home (as when he recognizes the station) show that Saroo's memory can indeed be trusted in some cases.
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Saroo retraces the car’s path back to the railway line and then navigates the streets he only half recognizes. The anxiety ebbs some when he comes across Baba’s mosque, but it kicks back into overdrive when he walks into the center of Ganesh Talai. There are too many buildings and nothing looks right, but Saroo finally realizes that things look different because the town has electricity now. Saroo decides to look for the home where his family lived in the Hindu neighborhood. When he finds the street, he suddenly experiences flashes of memories of playing in the alley. A woman asks in Hindi if she can help, and Saroo simply tells her no and walks away.
Saroo's anxiety as he walks the streets of Khandwa is a product of the tenuous relationship between the "Ginestlay" he remembers and the Ganesh Talai in front of him. Notably, "Ginestlay"exists only in his memory, and so is a place where things don't change, hence his present feeling that things look so vastly different. Ganesh Talai is a real, vibrant place in the world where things can change and evolve as time goes on, unlike childhood memories.
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Saroo walks back to the Muslim area of the neighborhood, and before he can think, he finds himself in front of his childhood house. It’s clearly abandoned, and he can barely fathom that five people once lived there—it’s only about nine feet square. Saroo reasons that he couldn’t expect to just waltz in and find Kamla still here, but he feels crushed regardless. A woman comes out of the house next door. When Saroo realizes she speaks some English, he recites the names of his family members and shows her the sheet of photos. The woman explains that nobody lives in the house anymore.
The willingness of this woman to help Saroo for no other reason than he looks lost and she can is testament to the inherent kindness of many people. The narrative now finally catches up to the events of the prologue, bringing things full circle but also adding suspense to the expectation of what comes next.
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Two men walk over to investigate, and Saroo tells one of the men who speaks English his story and again lists his family members’ names. The man asks Saroo to wait and walks off as a crowd begins to gather, curious about Saroo. A minute later, the man returns and tells Saroo to follow him to Kamla. Unthinking and anxious, Saroo follows until the man stops in front of three women and announces that this is his mother. Saroo is stunned as he looks from woman to woman. The one in the middle looks vaguely familiar, so he assumes that one is his mother. They look at each other for a moment and it seems as though she recognizes him instantly. Kamla steps forward, takes Saroo’s hands, and stares at him.
Again, help and kindness can be found in all sorts of unlikely places. The man’s kindness also shows the sense of community at work in Ganesh Talai, as this man must know Kamla and be aware of Saroo's disappearance in order to be able to make this happen. The idea of family and caring for others can also extend to encompass an entire community.
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Kamla leads Saroo to her house around the corner, muttering with emotion. Saroo can’t say anything. When they get inside, Kamla pulls out a cell phone and Saroo hears her calling Kallu and Shekila. She refers to Saroo as Sheru, and Saroo realizes he may have been mispronouncing his name the entire time. He also learns that Kamla has since converted to Islam and now goes by Fatima, though he tells the reader she’ll always be Kamla to him. The crowd outside the house grows as people call their friends and tell them about Saroo’s miraculous return.
The possibility that Saroo has been mispronouncing his own name again shows how unreliable childhood memories can be. However, Saroo's name now, as well as his belief in the memory of "Ginestlay," shows that these incorrect recollections do actually have a great deal of power to change the course of someone's life, regardless of their truthfulness.
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Several people speak English, so Kamla and Saroo can speak to each other. Saroo offers her a brief rundown of his story. She’s astonished. She explains that the man had simply said that Sheru was back, and she was “surprised with thunder” that he’d returned. Saroo feels as though the phrase encapsulates his feelings exactly. Later, when Saroo realizes he’d been mere meters from Kamla and it was only because of that man that he found her, he feels haunted that he may not have been able to find her at all.
The haunted feeling Saroo experiences points to his belief in luck and chance; it was only by chance and because of unexplainable kindness on the man's part that Saroo found Kamla so quickly. In this way, Saroo draws a link between kindness and fate. As was the case with the teenager, someone's kindness led him to the right place.
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The crowd babbles happily and chaotically around Saroo. He and Kamla meet a woman named Cheryl, who is able to translate for them. Saroo tells Kamla more about his life and what happened when he got lost. She makes it very clear that she’s grateful to Mum and Dad for raising Saroo to be the man he is today, and she insists she only wants for him to have the best life possible. Saroo is moved to hear this, as it allows him to feel that he made the right decision to choose adoption at Nava Jeevan.
Kamla's selfless ability to thank Mum and Dad shows that like them, she believes that family doesn't have to just consist of blood relatives. She recognizes that Mum and Dad are now somehow a part of her family, as they raised her son. This expands the definition of family even further, and shows that family can consist of an entire community.
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Related Quotes
Though Kamla’s new home represents a step up by the standards of Ganesh Talai, it’s also more dilapidated in some ways than the house Saroo lived in. Others tell Saroo that Kamla works as a housecleaner now, and Saroo recognizes that she has to work hard for this house. A little while later, Kallu and Shekila arrive. Shekila bursts into tears upon seeing Saroo, and Kallu is stunned. Finally, Saroo asks about Guddu. He wants Guddu to know that he doesn’t blame him for what happened, and he’s shocked to hear that Guddu never returned after Saroo got lost. A few weeks later, Kamla had received word that he died in a train accident. Saroo is devastated.
Saroo's recognition that Kamla has to work very hard for even this minimal step up shows another instance of poverty keeping Kamla from ever being able to do much better for herself. The struggle to feed herself and her family is likely hard enough that finding better housing is far down on her list of immediate necessities, as much as she takes pride in this new home. 
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Saroo learns later that Kamla had been annoyed that Guddu took Saroo, but it took her a week to become worried. A month after their disappearance, a policeman arrived with a photo of Guddu’s mangled body for Kamla to identify. He’d fallen off a moving train. Saroo is even more devastated when Kallu explains that though Guddu was buried in a cemetery, builders later built right over the graves. Saroo feels as though Guddu is being taken away from him, and is especially upset that there are no photographs of him—all he has are his memories. Saroo isn’t sure if his family totally understands his grief; they made peace with his death years ago.
Guddu's death represents a situation where Saroo's memories are literally all he has; there's no real way to corroborate them with real life in the present. This exposes some of the limits of memory, especially when so much time has passed where no new memories were made of someone. Especially now that Saroo has learned that so many of his childhood memories were lacking or false, he sees that only having these memories of Guddu will deny him important information—but they can still be important and powerful.
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Saroo also learns about his birth father: he now lives in Bhopal, a few hundred kilometers away, and the family hates him for abandoning them. At one point, Cheryl mentions that some of the people gathered in Kamla’s house wonder how Kamla knows for sure that Saroo is her son. Kamla insists she’d know Saroo anywhere, but points out the scar on Saroo’s eyebrow as definitive proof.
Kamla's insistence that she'd know Saroo anywhere points to what Saroo terms an unbreakable bond he shares with both of his mothers, and that she still clearly feels even after all this time apart. This reinforces for Saroo that family is one of the most important and powerful things in his life.
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Late in the evening, Saroo decides that he needs to go back to the hotel. Kallu takes Saroo on his motorbike and then heads to his home in Burhanpur. Saroo thinks about how much his life has changed in the last few hours, and thinks a lot about Guddu. He believes that Guddu didn’t just fall; he was too confident navigating the trains. He wonders if Guddu got into a fight, or was so preoccupied with finding Saroo that he made a mistake. Saroo struggles with the thought that if he hadn’t gotten on the train, Guddu might still be alive. He realizes, however, that he needs to accept that he’ll never know the full truth. Before he goes to bed, he texts Mum and Dad the news, and tells them that Kamla thanks them for raising him.
Though Saroo doesn't consider the possibility, it's also possible that Guddu didn't return for Saroo because he'd already suffered the accident. The many possible outcomes and chains of events from that night illustrate clearly that one of the kindest things people can do is to forgive themselves and not dwell on what might have been, just as Saroo had to eventually choose adoption and move on in order to give himself a better life as a child.
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