A Long Way Home

by

Saroo Brierley

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A Long Way Home: 3. Survival Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Saroo walks along the river, which is foul and lined with dead animals and human excrement. He’s shocked to come across two mutilated human bodies, and horrified to realize that the bodies are proof that existing in this city is a matter of life and death. Saroo feels terrified and wonders what happened to Guddu. He cries for a while and then vows to do his best to survive, as that’s the best chance he has of finding his way home. He finds people on the river bathing and doing laundry, and he joins children playing in the shallows. Later in the afternoon, Saroo jumps back into the river—but he doesn’t notice that the water level has risen. The current begins to pull him downstream, and water fills his lungs. Suddenly, someone pulls Saroo out. Saroo sees that it was an old homeless man.
For Saroo, the bodies are proof that there’s no real sense of community in Calcutta (or at least the part he’s in). Instead, it’s a place where someone might kill him for seemingly no reason, and where his body won’t be properly cared for. However, this idea immediately comes into question when Saroo is both embraced by the children in the river, and then saved by the homeless man. These events begin to show Saroo that there is kindness to be found, even in a gritty and dangerous city like Calcutta.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Saroo again finds himself surprised by the river the next day, and the same homeless man saves him. A crowd gathers, insisting that the gods spared Saroo. Embarrassed, Saroo runs away and decides he needs to find a place to sleep. He finds a piece of cardboard next to a disused factory. That night, nasty-looking dogs bark nearby, and Saroo wakes in the morning with a rock clutched firmly in his hand.
The crowd’s insistence that Saroo has been spared by the gods shows that many people believe in a divine conception of fate and destiny. When Saroo runs here, his action seems more connected to his later beliefs in chance and luck more than preordained fate.
Themes
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Destiny, Chance, and Luck Theme Icon
The vendors in the area don’t take pity on any of the orphan children, so Saroo watches people eating and learns which leftovers are safe and best to eat. He soon begins wandering further from the station and the river in search of food. One day, he finds himself in a dense and smelly block and comes across a group of older boys smoking cigarettes. One boy approaches, speaking a different language, and slaps Saroo in the face. Saroo gets up and walks away. When the boys begin to follow, Saroo runs through the enclosed yards. He makes it up onto a garden wall and then runs along it as the boys throw bottles at him. When the boys finally leave him alone, Saroo darts through a house to the street and returns to the bridge.
Saroo is unable to decide whether these boys are chasing him for sport or whether they have better reasons to chase him away, which reinforces his belief that this city is a matter of life and death. The fact that Saroo so willingly wanders into such a dangerous part of town shows that though he does have well-developed survival skills, he hasn’t yet perfected his instincts regarding which people and areas are safe to trust. He is, essentially, still a child, and isn’t always aware of what’s safe and what isn’t.
Themes
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Saroo struggles to find a place to sleep each night, and once finds himself under the bridge where he sees some wooden platforms holding statues of a goddess and covered in offerings. For the first time, Saroo feels safe. He collects some of the coins and eats some of the offerings of fruit, and then clambers onto some planks and curls up to sleep. He thinks of his family, but the thoughts aren’t as painful. When Saroo wakes up the next morning, he slips past the holy men in saffron robes and feels secure in their presence.
Again, Saroo conflates religion of any kind with safety, a belief that’s supported here when the holy men seem to allow Saroo to sleep near their shrine without waking him. This also continues to show that Saroo can indeed find small moments of kindness and belonging in unexpected places, and it’s not wrong to look for those places and take them when they come.
Themes
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon
Human Kindness Theme Icon
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Some days, Saroo returns to the railyard. One afternoon, he nearly falls asleep on the track in the heat, and a railway worker approaches him. Saroo explains that he’s lost, and the man explains that the tracks are very dangerous. Saroo is heartened that this man seems interested and tells him the story of how he arrived in Calcutta. When the man invites him to come home with him, Saroo doesn’t hesitate to accept.
Saroo may be a hardened street child by now, but kindness and warmth have the power to draw him off the streets in an instant. Essentially, though poverty has given Saroo a boost in some cases, it also makes him susceptible to manipulation as he looks for any kind of relief.
Themes
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon
Human Kindness Theme Icon
The railway worker lives with other workers in a metal shack near the station. Dinner that night seems decadent, and Saroo feels as though these men are saving his life. They allow him to sleep in a bed of straw and arrange for a friend who can help to visit. The next day, the friend shows up, sits on Saroo’s bed, and asks Saroo to lie down beside him and tell his story. Saroo tells the reader that it’s possible any five-year-old would’ve felt uncomfortable, but he knew instinctively that this man was bad—but also that he needed to play along. The man promises to return the next day. Saroo agrees, but knows he’s not going anywhere with him.
In particular, Saroo’s immediate ability to understand that he needs to play along in order to make it out of this alive shows just how developed his street smarts have become in the last few weeks, especially since it wasn’t that long ago that he walked right into a dangerous neighborhood. However, this experience also shows Saroo that what seems to be kindness is not always so; some people are trying to manipulate him and possibly hurt him.
Themes
Memory, Technology, and Friendship Theme Icon
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Saroo washes dishes that night after dinner and as the men smoke, he bolts as though his life depends on it. He slows once he reaches the streets, but when he hears his name, he runs to the most crowded part of the street. He looks back to see the railway worker and several others looking for him, angry looks on their faces. Finally, Saroo hides in a sewage pipe between two houses. He listens to the railway workers talking to a fruit vendor and sees the men move on. Saroo feels betrayed, and says he has never felt more terrified. He remains hidden for a while and then winds through the darkest parts of the streets.
It becomes clear that the men weren’t just being kind; they certainly want something from Saroo and it’s sure to not be good. The fact that they kept Saroo in their shack the way they did (they made him feel like a guest, not a prisoner) suggests that Saroo is probably unlike their other victims in his ability to recognize them as dangerous. They clearly expected him to go along with their wishes—they seem to usually consider children to be gullible and easy targets.
Themes
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon