A Long Way Home

by

Saroo Brierley

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A Long Way Home: 4. Salvation Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the experience with the railway worker, Saroo decides to cross the river to avoid running into him. The bridge is crowded with people of all sorts, and the traffic in the middle is overwhelming. Saroo leaves the main road as soon as he’s across. To the reader, Saroo wonders whether the railway worker had unwittingly shown him that he couldn’t survive alone for long, and as such Saroo works up the courage to approach people for help.
In his adult narration, Saroo recognizes that as useful as his street skills were, what he truly needed to survive and thrive was adult assistance and kindness. His brief stint at the railway worker’s shack reminded Saroo of what it feels like to sleep inside and be fed, reinforcing that those are things he absolutely does need.
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First, Saroo approaches a little boy about his own age. They play in the street for a while and then the boy invites Saroo to come home with him. The boy’s mother seems kind, and Saroo tells her some of his story. She allows him to stay and eat with them, promising to help him find someone to get him home. The next day, she invites Saroo to come with her to the pond to do laundry. Saroo washes himself in the pond and loves being in the water. Eventually, the boy joins his mother, but Saroo doesn’t listen when she calls for him. She loses her temper, throws a rock at Saroo, and leaves with her son. Saroo begins crying.
The very existence of a woman who is fully willing to help Saroo (at least at first) helps Saroo learn that it is possible and sometimes a good thing to trust people. However, her violence again shows that Saroo’s early experiences with family were possibly an outlier, given that Kamla wasn’t violent at all with her children. This also begins to get at the idea that families are built as much or more by the way that individuals interact with each other, not by blood.
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Saroo is perplexed, as Kamla never would’ve thrown a rock. He wonders if this is how people are in the big city. Not long after, Saroo meets a teenager about Guddu’s age. The teenager approaches Saroo and patiently asks him his name. They talk for a bit and when Saroo admits he’s lost, the teenager invites him to come back to his family’s home. Saroo stays with the teenager’s family for several days, and they’re very kind to him.
The teenager’s resemblance to Guddu no doubt plays a role in Saroo’s desire to trust him, which shows again that Saroo values his family and understands that he can trust family to help him. Essentially, it makes the teenager seem like less of a stranger along the lines of the railway worker, and more like an actual kind person.
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The teenager finally tells Saroo that he’s going to take him someplace to get help. When Saroo sees that they’re headed for a police station, he begins to resist. The teenager promises Saroo that the police officers will help, and eventually Saroo agrees to stay with the police. The police put Saroo in a locked cell, and he has no idea if things are getting better or worse.
Remember that Saroo has never been given a reason to believe that the police exist to help people; his experiences with poverty taught him instead that they stand in direct opposition to the ways in which he must obtain food to survive.
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Saroo addresses the reader and explains that he wonders what might’ve happened had he not trusted the teenager. It’s likely he would’ve died, as most homeless kids in Kolkata die. The railway worker’s friend may have intended to traffic Saroo into sexual slavery or sell him for his organs. Only a few months after Saroo was taken off the street, a person began murdering homeless people at night. He says he wishes he remembered the name of the teenager.
Now, by going back and adding an adult’s perspective to these childhood events, Saroo does for the reader what others later are able to do for him: he makes the memories make more sense by providing extra context to a simple and childish narrative and memory.
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The police feed Saroo in the morning and then take him with other children to another building. The adults there feed the children and then ask Saroo questions about who he is and where he’s from. They have no idea where “Ginestlay” is. Finally, they declare that Saroo is lost. After this, they take him to a building that they explain is for lost children. It looks like a prison. There are hundreds of children in long halls filled with bunk beds, and only one bathroom. Children sleep three or four to a bed, and the place is scary at night.
Again it’s suggested that Saroo’s ideas about where he comes from are convoluted, if not false, since still no one has heard of “Ginestlay.” The way he describes the place for lost children suggests that while the government ostensibly tries to right by these children, it's not easy or even possible in practice.
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Saroo wonders now if the place felt so horrible because most of the children had been abandoned or were otherwise sick, injured, or disabled. He also learned later that the place was a juvenile detention center called Liluah, and it housed criminal children alongside lost children like him.
The fact that Liluah also houses criminal children suggests that resources in Calcutta are stretched thin, and even people trying to do the right thing often simply can’t.
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Saroo tries to avoid the bigger boys who hit him, and it’s just by luck that he’s never taken by the men who climb over the walls and come inside. He reasons now that they were probably people like the railway worker and his friend, and walls don’t stop them—though neither do the adults who work there. About a month after Saroo arrives there, the authorities decide to turn him over to an orphanage. He feels lucky to be leaving Liluah.
Even though Saroo is technically in the care of the state at Liluah, his experience (and the experiences of others he describes) show clearly that not all care is created equal. Saroo may be safe from the murderers on the street, but he's still absolutely at risk for all sorts of other horrible fates.
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Saroo is taken to the children’s court in Calcutta, where he’s released into the care of Mrs. Saroj Sood and the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption (ISSA). Saroo feels safe with Mrs. Sood immediately. She explains to him that he’ll live in her orphanage, called Nava Jeevan, while she tries to find “Berampur.” She buys him a banana when he asks, and Nava Jeevan turns out to be very nice. The windows have bars, but Saroo understands that they’re to keep children safe. The environment is generally friendly, though it’s still overcrowded.
By buying Saroo a banana, Mrs. Sood shows him that she's truly willing to listen to him and attend to his needs. The safety that Saroo feels at Nava Jeevan and with Mrs. Sood illustrates clearly his desire to trust people and form close bonds with them. Essentially, this indicates that he's ready and willing to seek family and friendships now that he's seen that he cannot live without those relationships.
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While other children go to school, Saroo sits at home on the enclosed front porch. He eventually makes friends with a teenage girl who sometimes passes him snacks. One day she gives him a pendant of the god Ganesh, who is often called the Remover of Obstacles and the Lord of Beginnings. Saroo treasures it into adulthood, and he sees it as proof that people will help him. He manages to avoid the few bullies at Nava Jeevan, and is never hit or punished.
The Ganesh pendant and the fact that Saroo keeps it foreshadows Saroo's good fortune to come. Though Saroo ultimately doesn’t believe in a divine sense of destiny, it's possible to read the relationship between Ganesh and the good things that happen to Saroo in his life as possible proof that divine destiny is indeed real.
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After a few weeks, Mrs. Sood tells Saroo that since they cannot find Kamla, they’re going to try to find him another family. Part of him had already accepted that he wasn’t going home, and he’s not particularly devastated. He simply doesn’t understand how the adults can’t just find the right train to send him home. Four weeks later, Mrs. Sood tells Saroo that a mother and father in Australia would like him to come live with them. Two other boys from Nava Jeevan, Abdul and Musa, already went to Australia, and Saroo’s friend at the orphanage, Asra, will also be going.
Saroo now understands that he must take any chance he gets at a better life, no matter what form that chance might take. It's also worth noting that part of what keeps the adults from being able to find Saroo's home is his lack of language—again, the effects of growing up in poverty keep him from moving more easily through the world.
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Asra and Saroo are given photo albums made by their prospective parents. Saroo is bewitched by the fact that the Brierleys are white, have a car, and a large house. He’s especially fascinated when they say in the album that he’ll ride on a jet to come to them. Saroo is generally overwhelmed by the thought of living with a new family, but Asra is very excited. Eventually, her enthusiasm proves contagious and Saroo agrees to go to Australia.
Saroo's feeling of being overwhelmed likely has to do with the fact that he still has a family that is alive and surely misses him; it'll later come to light that Asra's birth parents are dead. This shows that though Saroo will later state that he absolutely believes that his adoptive family is his "real" family, he struggled to get to that point.
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Once Saroo makes his decision, his reservations disappear. One day, Asra, Saroo, and the other children going to Australia are separated by gender, and the boys are taken to the house of a woman called Aunty Ula. She teaches them how to eat at the table with a knife and fork and ask for more food. Saroo is thrilled to learn that he'll be able to ask for more food. Days later, Saroo, the five others from Nava Jeevan, and two other children from a different orphanage board a plane bound for Australia. Saroo is sad to say goodbye to Mrs. Sood, but his excitement at flying on a plane soon takes the place of any anxiety.
Remember that for Saroo at this point, being in a situation where he can ask for food and expect to receive it is entirely outside his realm of experience. This begins to create an experience gap between him and the rest of his birth family, as the fact that they remain in Saroo's hometown mostly ensures that they're going to struggle to lift themselves out of poverty, if they'll be able to do so at all.
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The Australian volunteers accompanying the children give them chocolate bars, and Saroo makes his last for the entire journey. He’s fascinated by getting to watch TV and eats everything the flight attendants bring. They stay a night in Bombay, which feels extremely luxurious to Saroo. The next day, he puts on a “Tasmania” tee shirt sent by his new parents and is allowed to choose a toy at a toyshop. He chooses a model car.
Getting to choose a toy in particular is a way for ISSA to show the children that they're cared for and that this is a start of a better life, as it's likely the first time in these children's lives that they've been able to choose anything frivolous like a toy.
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Saroo explains that he knows now that on the flight from Calcutta to Bombay, he passed very close to his hometown. The plane likely left a vapor trail, just liked the ones he watched with fascination as a child. He wonders if Kamla saw his vapor trail.
This coincidence feeds Saroo's belief in chance and fate, as well as a growing sense that everything that happened to him was somehow connected via destiny.
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