A Long Way Home

by

Saroo Brierley

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A Long Way Home: 12. Reaching Out Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Saroo gets back to Hobart, he calls Asra to share the news. She’s very happy for him and asks what he’s going to do next. Saroo realizes he hadn’t thought of that all—it was so emotional finding his family in the first place. He recognizes that now, he’ll have to figure out how he fits into both families across cultures. Mum, Dad, and Lisa are thrilled to hear all about meeting his family and seem especially interested in knowing whether he wants to return. Saroo reassures them that he has no intention of moving to India.
Just as Saroo needed to learn to trust Mum and Dad upon his arrival in Australia, the same thing must happen again as Saroo's family navigates how to deal with these new members of their family. Trust is one of the most important elements that keeps a family together, as some of the anxiety here seems to stem from questions of whether or not they can trust Saroo to stay.
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Saroo’s story spreads. His family receives a call first from the Hobart newspaper, then other Australian papers, and soon, other international media outlets. Saroo soon books a manager to help him deal with the attention and struggles to juggle his life for a bit. Though it’s exhausting for Saroo, he feels as though he has a responsibility to keep telling his story in case it gives someone else in a similar situation hope, as well as to encourage others to simply grasp opportunities and not give up.
When Saroo books his agent and feels a responsibility to tell his story, it shows that he's beginning to understand that his story absolutely has the power to help others. It essentially becomes a way for Saroo to give back to a world that has given him many good things and unasked for kindnesses in life.
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Saroo regularly video chats with his family in India, though they don’t have a camera so he cannot see them. He decides he needs to set Kamla up so they can stay in touch, and decides he wants to play a real part in his Indian family. He returns to India for the second time in early winter, as the Diwali “Festival of Lights” is ending. It’s a celebration of good and a rejection of evil. Saroo arrives in the evening, drops his bags at the hotel, and gets back in the car and heads for Ganesh Talai. Though Saroo had tried to learn some Hindi, he’s lost as soon he finds himself in a conversation. Kamla greets him warmly anyway.
By returning during the Festival of Lights, Saroo observes another coincidence that makes his story seem even more special. It allows him a place and space to recognize all the good things that have happened in his life to lead him to this point. Further, his desire to "set up" his family so that he can stay in touch and presumably support them suggests that Saroo wants to pay back his mother's kindness to him now that he is able.
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Shekila and Kallu join Saroo and Kamla, and Kamla makes her children sit in plastic chairs while she sits on the floor. When Cheryl arrives, the conversations begin, though they proceed slowly. Saroo also meets a woman named Swarnima, who speaks English and offers to help translate. Saroo is so overwhelmed by her kindness that he pays her, but offended, she returns the money. They eventually become good friends.
Saroo's misguided attempt to pay Swarnima illustrates how the idea of kindness doesn't always mean the same thing in different cultures. For him, paying her is a way to reciprocate her kindness, while for her, it's enough to simply offer her translation skills simply for the sake of doing it.
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Kamla seems to fear that Saroo is still undernourished, so she feeds him as much as she can. Saroo remembers being a child with her in the kitchen, and is thrilled to get to taste her goat curry again. During this visit, they talk often about how the family never fully gave up on him. Priests and religious leaders often told Kamla that Saroo was healthy and happy, and they amazingly always pointed south when she asked where he was. Kamla had done everything she could to search for Saroo, but most of what she could actually do was pray.
Kamla's priests and religious leaders certainly cast Saroo's life in terms of destiny and a particularly divine destiny. Notably, this belief allowed Kamla to maintain her sense of hope and her belief that Saroo was alive, which suggests that the fact that Saroo doesn't believe in divine destiny really doesn't matter. Rather, what matters is that Kamla was able to make sense of her situation.
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Saroo realizes that Kamla’s faith that he was alive fundamentally shaped her life. She insisted on remaining in Ganesh Talai in hopes that Saroo would return, something that blows Saroo away. He explains to the reader that there have been so many coincidences surrounding his story, he just has to accept them. For example, it turned out that Kallu and Shekila's fond memories of bathing together were the same memories that Saroo turned over as he tried to telepathically send Kamla messages that he was well. Kamla also admits that one day, she prayed to Allah for blessings and an image of Saroo appeared in her mind. The next day, Saroo arrived.
For Saroo, the only possible thing he can do with all these instances is just accept that they happened and that they make his life richer—because he believes more in chance and luck than in destiny, these are just coincidences. However, for Kamla, who believes in destiny that's divinely shaped, all of these coincidences are actually just proof that her belief system is correct, and that Saroo was always going to come back to her.
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Kamla tells Saroo that many families want their daughters to marry Saroo, and he tries to explain again about Lisa. Kamla asks that Saroo marry and have children before she dies so he'll have someone to care for him. Kallu and Shekila express interest in visiting Australia to see where Saroo was raised and to meet his family.
The number of available wives for Saroo suggests that there was some nugget of truth in his fear that people would try to capitalize on his miraculous return.
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Kamla also tells Saroo that if he wants to return to India, she’ll work to build him a home and go back to work so she can support him. Saroo explains to the reader that he wants to do the exact opposite. Saroo, Shekila, Kallu, and Kamla discuss how Saroo might help support Kamla in particular, as well as the rest of their families. Saroo decides he’d like to buy Kamla a house in Ganesh Talai.
The discrepancies in how Saroo and Kamla want to care for each other is again indicative of the huge cultural differences that now separate them, but also show how deeply committed they both are to supporting people they consider family in any way possible.
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Finally, the subject of Saroo’s birth father comes up. Kallu and Shekila are unforgiving of him, and they also blame him for Guddu’s death. Though Saroo understands, he doesn’t feel the same. He feels as though his father might have made a decision that spiraled out of control, and thinks he’s willing to forgive his father if he’s repentant. Towards the ends of his visit, Saroo receives word that his father learned that Saroo was back, is angry that Saroo hasn’t contacted him, and wants to see him. There’s not enough time, so Saroo puts it off.
Saroo is able to come to these possible conclusions about his father because he does just have his few childhood memories to go on, unlike his siblings who have suffered a lifetime of neglect firsthand. Saroo's father's reaction to learning about Saroo, however, suggests that Saroo's hope that family might fix all former ills may be naïve, particularly given the anger he describes.
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Saroo is very happy to finally get to meet Rochak, the administrator of the “Khandwa: My Home Town” Facebook group. Rochak had helped Saroo plan his trip to Khandwa, and Saroo is thrilled to get to thank him. Rochak loves that the internet is connecting people in remote places like Khandwa with the rest of the world. Both he and Saroo believe that online friendships like theirs are just as profound and fulfilling as friendships in the real world. Rochak believes that Saroo’s journey home is one of destiny, and to complete Saroo’s "destiny," he organizes a car to drive Saroo to Burhanpur to catch a train.
The friendship that Saroo and Rochak share continues to expand the book's definition of family to encompass relationships that don't necessarily exist in the “real” world. Instead, Saroo and Rochak's friendship is based on the kindnesses that Rochak performed for Saroo during Saroo's search. Families and friendships are built primarily through actions, not blood or even proximity.
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