Saroo tells the reader that it’s important he explain how his parents came to the choice to adopt two children internationally, with no preference for gender, age, or circumstance. Mum was born in Tasmania to central European immigrants, both of whom emigrated after World War II. Mum’s mother, Julie, was born in Hungary to a very large family. Julie’s father left for Canada and effectively abandoned his family, and most of her older brothers served in the war. The remaining members of Julie’s family fled to Germany once Russians invaded Hungary to pursue retreating Nazis. Julie was 19 at the end of the war.
Already in Mum's history, it's clear that she comes from a long line of neglect and possibly poverty, given the time period. By going back and giving this history, Saroo shows how these past experiences very distinctly shape how Mum and Dad behave in the present. In turn, this sets the reader up to look for instances in which Saroo behaves in ways that he learned early on in life.
Mum’s father, Josef, was born in Poland. His mother died when he was little, and his stepmother hated him. His grandmother raised him, and because of his stepmother, he grew up hating women. Josef was a member of the Resistance in WWII, but the experience disturbed him. He eventually fled to Germany, where he met Julie. They married and had a baby by the end of the war. When they decided to leave Europe, they boarded a ship they thought was headed for Canada but ended up in Australia instead. Julie remained in Victoria for a year while Josef built houses in Tasmania, and then she joined him when he bought a farm. Mum was born in 1954, and a little sister was born a year and a half later.
On Josef's side as well, there's clear abuse and neglect at play, which the reader can expect to fundamentally color how Josef goes on to move through the world. This in turn makes it clear that an unhappy or unsafe family life can, in some ways, be just as detrimental as growing up in poverty, as both leave a child with major scars. Relocating to Tasmania, where Mum (and later, Saroo) is able to make a better life for herself, positions Tasmania itself as a place of possibility and of hope.
Mum described Josef as being huge, powerful, and scary, as his moods could shift instantly from melancholia to blind rage. He drank vodka daily and insisted on traditional Polish meals, which Mum hated and often refused to eat. Though Josef became quite rich in the building business, he soon grew delusional, deranged, and refused to pay taxes on his properties. He lost all the family’s money this way.
In many ways, Josef mimics Saroo's birth father in how their children describe them. This illustrates how detrimental it can be when a child's parent is so unreliable and downright dangerous, as Mum grows up undernourished as a result of refusing to eat the Polish meals on which her father insists.
Mum left school at 16 per Josef’s insistence, and she got a job as a pharmacy assistant in Burnie. She loved her independence and paid Julie for her board, while the rest of her paycheck went towards assembling a hope chest. On a lunch break one day, Mum noticed a young man from Hobart named John Brierley (Dad). He soon asked her out. He was from England, and though he’d been skeptical of Australia at first, he loved surfing and the sun so much he never went back to England. Mum’s experience with her own father soured her towards men, and it wasn’t until her older sister married that she realized that men could be kind and respectful.
A hope chest is traditionally filled with household items such as linen and dishes that a woman will need to furnish her married home. The fact that Mum spends her hard-earned money putting this together shows that even though she hasn't necessarily had firsthand experience that family can be loving and positive, she still recognizes that building one of her own is something that she aspires to—though in a very different way than her parents did.
A year later, Dad got a job on the mainland, but he stayed in Burnie long enough to propose and get married. They moved to Hobart, and Mum celebrated her 21st birthday in her own house several years after.
In only a few years, Mum is able to turn her life around by accepting help and companionship from Dad.
Mum was very affected by Josef’s ensuing downfall. He went bankrupt twice and was eventually sent to the lockup. An accountant cheated Josef and left him with more debt, and when Mum was 30, Josef was taken to prison, became very violent, and was transferred to a psychiatric prison. He borrowed money from a loan shark, who promptly took everything from Josef. Julie left Josef a year later, even though he threatened to kill her. Eventually, she came to live with Mum and Dad when Saroo and Mantosh were young. Josef died when Saroo was twelve, and he never met him.
Mum never introduces her children to her father, showing just how strongly she believes that blood is a poor indicator of family. Though Josef is undeniably her children's grandfather, keeping her children from him means that she doesn't believe that this relationship should guarantee him contact, when in every other way he hasn't earned it.
In part because of the political shifts happening in Australia after the sixties, Mum and Dad were very interested in “alternative” ideas. They, like others, were worried about overpopulation and war, and these worries helped them decide to adopt children from developing countries. Mum’s upbringing taught her that there was nothing particularly special about families formed by birth parents alone. At twelve years old, Mum also experienced a vivid vision of a brown-skinned child next to her, which turned into a guiding force in her decision to adopt. Mum felt so strongly about adopting that she even admitted she may have ended her marriage had Dad not agreed.
Mum believes in some form of destiny, though it's unclear whether it's religiously motivated or not. Regardless, this places Saroo's adoption in the realm of destiny, as it's clear from her vision that his adoption was always going to happen. It's also worth noting that Mum conceptualizes adoption as a way to help others less fortunate than she is, which is a way for her to give back to a world that has, in her adult life at least, been very kind to her.
In Tasmania at that time, state law prohibited couples who were able to conceive from adopting. Mum and Dad settled for sponsoring children overseas and otherwise enjoying their good fortune. Sixteen years later, Mum met a couple who had adopted a child and also had a biological son. She resumed her inquiry into adoption and discovered the rules had changed. Mum and Dad applied to adopt through ISSA, in part because in 1987, the childhood death toll in India was not much less than the total population of Australia.
The early state law attempts to dictate how families work, and effectively says that the family that Mum and Dad eventually create somehow isn't appropriate. By doing this, the law implies that relationships like Mum's with Josef are somehow more legitimate than Mum's relationship to Saroo, based only on whether or not people share blood and not on their actual relationship.
Because Mum and Dad didn’t have a preference on age or sex, they received word that Saroo was available within weeks of turning in their application. As soon as Mum saw Saroo’s photo, he felt like hers. Three months later, he arrived in Melbourne. Mum believes that more Australians should consider adopting, and she’s very critical of the way that governments make adoption very difficult. The struggle to adopt Mantosh made her very ill, and she believes that if it weren’t so difficult, more people would do it. Saroo explains that he’s very thankful for the life his parents gave him.
Mum's assertion that more people would adopt if it were easier presumes that people are kind at heart, and are willing to help others when doing so isn't difficult. This suggests that a main reason more people aren't kind in other ways is because kindness often must be filtered through official channels (such as adoption agencies) that are, in some cases, restrained by misguided laws. At the same time, adoption can go horribly wrong for children, and the strict laws are in place to prevent situations like this—not everyone’s view of human nature is as optimistic as Mum’s.