A Long Way Home

by

Saroo Brierley

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A Long Way Home: 9. Finding Home Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On March 31, 2011, Saroo comes home from work and settles in with his laptop. He continues along in the central west of India, studying the stations he passes. After a few hours, he takes a break and then returns, flicking the map ahead quickly to get a sense of what the land is like ahead. He finds a river and a large blue lake, and he imagines he’s hiking as he peruses the lush country. Saroo notices that there are no train lines, so he begins to search for them. Suddenly, he notices a station symbol and zooms in.
Saroo previously noted that hiking and outdoor physical activity wasn’t part of his life in India; here, his daydreaming about hiking reinforces how fundamentally his adoption has changed his life from what it was as a child.
Themes
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Saroo follows the tracks from that station until he gets to the next one. It has a pedestrian overpass and a familiar water tank, and most incredibly, a horseshoe-shaped road just outside the station. It looks just like the road Saroo always looked at from "Berampur." He zooms out; the town’s name is Burhanpur. Saroo doesn’t recognize the town itself, though he reasons that he never left the station. Anxiously, Saroo pulls the map north along the line until it crosses a gorge, then a river with a dam. There’s farmland on either side of the tracks surrounding the city. Saroo finds the station. This town is called Khandwa.
This moment of success illustrates clearly how technology can make it possible for someone to use even compromised and incomplete childhood memories to make sense of the world as an adult. With new information about the towns' names, Saroo will be able to more successfully investigate these places and come to a better and more adult understanding of his childhood.
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Related Quotes
The name means nothing to Saroo, so he checks off the landmarks he remembers that this station and the town have. He even finds the familiar park fountain, and then he traces his way “home.” There’s nothing marked “Ginestlay” on the map, but he locates a building he’s sure is his childhood home. After a few minutes, he calls for Lisa—realizing only after he yells that it’s the middle of the night. She hugs and congratulates him.
Because "Ginestlay" is clearly still a mystery and because Khandwa isn't a name Saroo recognizes, it’s clear that his childhood memories were incorrect in a variety of ways. Essentially, this reinforces that he had to rely on visual cues rather than verbal ones, as the verbal ones have now been proven useless.
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Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon
The next day, Saroo tells Dad that he found his hometown. Dad is skeptical, and Saroo realizes that telling him is the first step towards doing something about his discovery. A little while later, Saroo tells Mum. He worries about upsetting her, especially since she so firmly believes in their family. He assures her that she’ll always be his mother as he shows his parents the Google Earth images. They celebrate tentatively.
For Mum and Dad, Saroo's discovery could very easily challenge the strong and loving family that they've spent 25 years developing and nourishing. All families—birth and adopted—are susceptible to change, as both Saroo's birth family and adoptive family are changed by this discovery.
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Related Quotes
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After dinner, Saroo heads home and searches for Khandwa on Facebook. He discovers a group called “Khandwa: My Home Town” and messages the administrator (Rochak) asking if there’s a fountain near the cinema. The fountain is the most distinct landmark Saroo can think of, and he sleeps poorly until the administrator responds. The administrator responds in the morning saying that the fountain by the cinema isn’t very big, and the cinema itself has been closed for years. Saroo tries to stay calm.
Rochak's message shows that as much as Saroo may remember, many things have indeed changed in the past 25 years—clearly, Saroo's memories are effective, but only to a point. It's also worth recognizing that Rochak's willingness to help here mirrors the way that others helped Saroo when he was a child.
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The next day, Mum tells Saroo that when she looked at the map they’d drawn when he was a child, it didn’t quite match up with what he found on Google Earth. Saroo doesn’t know if that means he’s wrong, or if he just had a hard time accurately describing landmarks as a six-year-old. Mum also checks the map of India in Saroo’s room, and is surprised to see Burhanpur and Khandwa on it, almost all the way across the country from Kolkata. Saroo is shocked to realize that his hometown had been right in front of him his entire childhood; he just hadn’t known where to look. He wonders, though, if Mum is right—it’s so far away from Kolkata. He begins to doubt his memories.
Mum seems to be trying to protect Saroo from the possibility of disappointment, which is one way for her to show him her support and her love. However, it also shows her placing more faith in childhood memories than Saroo thinks is entirely reasonable at this point, given that he recognizes the streets of Khandwa but has no recollection of ever hearing the name itself.
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Finally, Saroo thinks to ask about a suburb in Khandwa that might sound like “Ginestlay.” The heart-stopping answer comes from Rochak a day later: there’s a suburb called Ganesh Talai, which seems to match Saroo’s childhood mispronunciation closely enough. Saroo isn’t sure what to do. He’s excited to have found home, but he’s unsure of what this might mean for his family. He wonders if Kamla is healthy or even alive, and whether his siblings are okay. He wonders if he’d even recognize them. Saroo realizes that he must go to Khandwa in order to answer his questions, but he feels some of the same anxiety that made Mum and Dad cancel the trip to India when Saroo was a child.
Solving the "Ginestlay" mystery shows with finality that childhood memories can certainly be useful, but they shouldn't necessarily be taken as definite reality. Again, this mystery exists in the first place because of the combination of Saroo's youth and his lack of education; he never had the language skills to be able to appropriately pronounce Ganesh Talai or even Khandwa, for that matter.
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Saroo researches Khandwa for a long time. He discovers that it’s a relatively small city, but is at a major rail junction. He watches YouTube videos from the city, and after a few weeks, he finally raises the subject of going to India with his parents and Lisa. They all insist he should go, and they all want to go too. Saroo insists he must go alone, as he doesn’t want to make a big scene and possibly attract people excited to be his “mother” and claim a long-lost son.
Saroo recognizes that in such a poor city, there are people who will see his return as an economic opportunity rather than a chance to put a fractured family back together. He recognizes that because his childhood memories are obviously flawed in places, he might be especially susceptible to this kind of thing.
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Lisa backs down immediately, but Mum and Dad argue more. Finally, Saroo convinces them that he must go alone. It takes Saroo eleven months to sort through bureaucratic details, though he also puts off the possible heartbreak that might come from being disappointed once in India. He finds support in strange places, including from the doctor’s office that administers his vaccinations. Finally, Mum and Lisa take Saroo to the airport and Mum gives Saroo a page of color photographs of him as a child. Saroo is the last to board the plane and anxiously wonders if he really should go.
When Saroo receives support in odd corners of his world, it begins to suggest that his story is exceptional and has the power to touch people. This foreshadows his eventual realization that his story can be used to inspire hope in others, and that he can perhaps use it to pay back some of the kindness shown to him by others. Giving others hope and support, essentially, is one of the kindest things a person can do.
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