A Long Way Home

by

Saroo Brierley

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A Long Way Home: 5. A New Life Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Saroo lands in Melbourne on the night of September 25, 1987. The volunteers lead the children to a VIP area to meet their new families. Though Saroo feels very shy, he immediately recognizes the Brierleys. He still has his chocolate. He hugs Mum and Dad, and Mum cleans the chocolate off of his hand. They can't talk to each other, so they sit and point at pictures in the photo album. Saroo is withdrawn, but he immediately feels safe with his parents. Eventually, Saroo and the Brierleys head to a hotel before their flight to Tasmania.
When Mum cleans Saroo's hands, it's an action that communicates through the language barrier that she's here to care for Saroo over anything else. This continues to develop the idea that families are created when people care for each other, not necessarily just by being blood relations.
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Mum scrubs Saroo in the bathtub. Later, they find that he has a heart murmur and an intestinal tapeworm. He sleeps soundly that night and wakes up in the morning to see Mum and Dad watching him from their bed. He peers out at them, and feels as though none of them could believe that they were going to be a family. After breakfast, they take a short flight to Hobart. Saroo is shocked that the streets of Hobart are clean, and nobody there is as dark as him. The house is very impressive, and Saroo loves the cold fridge especially.
Again, bathing Saroo is another way for Mum to demonstrate how she'll care for her new son, which in turn shows Saroo that he can trust her to care for him kindly and gently. The disbelief Saroo mentions alludes to the fact that this all happened very quickly compared to other adoptions; it's only been seven months since the police took custody of Saroo.
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The best part of the new house is Saroo’s bedroom, as he’s never had a room to himself. Mum has pinned a map of India in it and laid out warm clothes appropriate for Tasmania’s cooler weather. It takes him time to understand that all the books and toys are for him to play with at will. The other difficult thing to get used to is the abundance of food. Saroo and Mum name food items for each other in Hindi and English. Mum cooks Indian food often, but Saroo’s diet slowly becomes more Australian. He’s shocked the first time he sees Mum with beef—as a Hindu, it’s taboo to slaughter cows, which are considered holy animals. Eventually, the abundance of food overcomes Saroo’s cultural preferences.
The difficulties Saroo has in adjusting to life in Tasmania are illustrative of the effects of poverty—per his narration, the only thing he ever truly owned was his sleeping blanket, which makes it far easier to understand his struggle to realize all the things in his room are his. Then, the fact that he does eventually move past his Hindu upbringing in favor of accepting what's given to him shows that the abundance the Brierleys offer is more compelling than religious beliefs for someone who grew up hungry.
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Mum teaches Saroo to swim very quickly, and Saroo loves being able to enjoy the outdoors. Mum and Dad are active and take Saroo to play golf, hike, and sail. Saroo finds the natural world peaceful, as he’d never experienced anything like it in India. The year after his adoption, Saroo starts school in a suburb called Howrah. He explains that years later, he discovered that the area of Calcutta where he lived on the streets was also called Howrah, named after the city’s massive Howrah Station.
The "Howrah" coincidence also adds more weight to Saroo's growing sense that there's possibly more at play than chance. He starts to take a more balanced view between chance and destiny, as he sees that it's significant that these coincidences exist in the first place.
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Saroo loves school, though he struggles with the fact that he can’t answer his classmates’ questions about where he’s from. Mum finally attends a parent-student day and explains Saroo’s adoption to his classmates. Saroo says he doesn’t remember experiencing racism at school, though Mum and Dad can recall several instances that went over Saroo’s head at the time. They eventually stop attending events put on by the local Indian Cultural Society, as Mum and Dad notice that people believe that Saroo shouldn’t have been taken from India to live with white parents. They do continue to be involved with ASIAC, an organization that helps people adopt internationally. Saroo is surprised at the first meeting to discover that he’s not the only internationally adopted child in Hobart.
Saroo's surprise at discovering he's not as special as he thought points again to his extreme youth at this time in his story, especially since he's clearly aware that other children, like Asra, have been and are being adopted into Australian families. The prejudice of people at the Cultural Society suggests that there are people in Hobart who have distinct views of what adoption should look like, and they think less of the Brierleys as a family for violating their ideas of what makes a traditional Australian family.
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Through ASIAC, Saroo is able to keep in contact with Asra. A year after their adoptions, their families meet up to go to the zoo in Melbourne with Abdul and Musa, and everyone seems happy to be in their new homes. Later that year, Saroo even gets to see Mrs. Sood again when she accompanies another adoptee to Hobart.
The fact that all four of these children are, per Saroo's understanding, happy to be in Australia with their new families is a testament to the power of adoption to form families—it helps build Saroo's belief that blood relations aren’t necessary.
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Saroo loves all his teachers at school and applies himself to academics. When he’s ten, Mum and Dad adopt another child from India. Saroo is thrilled; he’d been saying for years that he wanted Shekila for Christmas. He explains that Mum was a wonderful mother to him, so the only person missing in his life was a sibling. This is heightened by the fact that he was so close to Shekila, and he occasionally tells Mum that he feels guilty for not looking after her better.
With the prospect of a sibling on the horizon, it appears as though all of Saroo's childhood dreams are coming true: he's finally able to go to school, and soon he'll have a sibling to care for. The fact that Saroo connects this sibling specifically to Shekila and feels bad about leaving her does show that he’s still dwelling on his memories of India.
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Just as they did the first time, Mum and Dad ask for any child of any age or gender, and they get a little boy named Mantosh. Mantosh proves loud and disobedient. Like Saroo, he grew up poor in India and arrives at nine years old in Australia with no records. He grew up speaking Bengali around Calcutta, his birth home was violent, and eventually, a grandmother handed him over to the state. He wound up at ISSA, but children can only remain at ISSA for two months. Because he did have known parents, Mrs. Sood struggled to make Mantosh available for adoption. He went to Liluah, where he was physically and sexually abused. The entire process took two years, and Saroo understands now that what happened to Mantosh exposed the harm that can come as a result of the bureaucratic adoption system.
The stark differences between Mantosh and Saroo make it abundantly clear that adoption isn't a clear process for everyone, and everyone's experience is different. For Mantosh, he was caught between two families far more than Saroo was, given that ISSA spent so much time fighting with his parents. It’s suggested that sometimes, birth families can stand in the way of a person finding family elsewhere, whether that be through adoption or through finding a "chosen family" of friends.
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Mantosh doesn’t seem to understand that the move to Australia is permanent at first, and he experiences major mixed feelings. He can become suddenly explosive, and even as an emaciated child he is as strong as an adult. This makes Saroo wary of Mantosh, and he's generally unsettled by the sibling rivalry that grows between them. Mantosh also struggles in school and seems to attract more racist comments. He fights back and struggles to rely on his teachers, especially the female ones—women in positions of authority aren’t common in India. Saroo struggles with this too, but Mum quickly puts Saroo in his place.
Remember that Saroo was three years younger than Mantosh was when he arrived; essentially, this means that Mantosh had three more years to learn Indian customs and belief systems before being uprooted. Though Saroo's extreme youth at the time of his adoption clearly has negative effects on his memory, it also possibly gave him a leg up in adjusting to life in Australia.
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Though Mum feels guilty for not being able to give Saroo as much attention now, Saroo is used to being independent. Eventually, Mum and Dad begin planning a family trip to India. Both Saroo and Mantosh are initially excited, but soon begin to feel anxious. They begin experiencing anxiety about things they thought they’d put behind them already, and the idea becomes more and more upsetting. Finally, Mum and Dad cancel the trip.
It's worth noting that having the ability to plan a family trip to India is indicative of the Brierleys' wealth, especially in comparison to Saroo and Mantosh's birth parents. Planning this trip also suggests that for Mum and Dad, India is a place to visit and enjoy, while for their sons, it's so much more—it's where they came from, and they suffered there.
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