At its heart, Saroo's memoir is a story of kindness—his narration lingers on people who were kind to him as a child in Khandwa, while roaming the streets of Calcutta, and then his adoptive parents in Australia. Because of these kind people who made his survival and later successes possible, Saroo positions his memoir as a meditation on the positive effects of small and large kindnesses. He overwhelmingly asserts that he and other fortunate people have a responsibility to help others who are less fortunate, just as other people once helped him.
Amidst the horrors of the dangerous Calcutta streets, Saroo comes across several people who help him for seemingly no reason other than simply being kind. The first of these is the mysterious older homeless man who saves Saroo twice from drowning in the Hooghly River. Later, a teenager takes Saroo in and after a few days, he turns Saroo over to the police—an act that Saroo credits with saving his life, as it led him eventually to the ISSA adoption agency and his life in Australia. In his adult narration, Saroo's greatest regret is that he never thanked either the old man or the teenager. He also never learned the names of either person, or of any of the people who consciously or unconsciously helped him survive, such as the religious men Saroo slept near or the kind mother who fed and housed Saroo for a night. For a variety of reasons, including his youth and his general distrust of adults, Saroo also never learned why these people helped him in the first place (though he does wonder if the old man was Hindu and therefore, would later be rewarded via the laws of Karma). Because of this, Saroo is forced to accept that sometimes people act kindly for no apparent reason, something that's difficult for him to understand as a child whose experiences overwhelmingly taught him that people other than close family weren't to be trusted.
Saroo not only focuses on the kindness of strangers, but also the kind acts of people he became close to, such as Mrs. Sood of the ISSA adoption agency and his adoptive parents, Mum and Dad. In the case of these people, Saroo partly attributes their ability to act kindly to their association with agencies and larger systems that promote such kindness, while also exploring the ways in which those agencies can actually hinder people's ability to act kindly. Though Mrs. Sood is described as though she was always inclined toward helping others, she wasn't truly able to channel her desire to do so until she founded ISSA, the humanitarian-focused adoption agency that facilitated Saroo's adoption as well as that of his brother Mantosh and thousands of other children. Similarly, Mum and Dad's desire to build a family through adoption—a desire that Saroo characterizes as a way for his parents to help others less fortunate than them—is something that must necessarily must be done through official channels. However, Saroo also describes how these organizations often struggle to enable people to act kindly in individual cases due to hard-to-navigate international and local laws. After the two-year process to adopt Mantosh, during which he suffered physical and sexual abuse as a result of the delay, Mum becomes an advocate for changing adoption laws to make international adoption easier. She reasons that if the process weren't so difficult, more people would choose to do it. Mum's assertion gets at two important ideas: first, that she believes that acting kindly is something that comes naturally to people, and second, that not all laws intended to help people (i.e. strict international adoption laws) are actually successful in carrying out their intended mission—in fact, they sometimes actively discourage kindness and harm the intended recipients by making it impossibly difficult. At the same time, this is a somewhat idealistic view that disregards the ways that lax adoption laws can be brutally and immorally abused, as Saroo also acknowledges.
By considering both the small acts of kindness paid to him in Calcutta, as well as the larger, more legally sanctioned kindnesses of Mrs. Sood and his adoptive parents, Saroo paints a broad picture of what kindness can be, what forms it can take, and what barriers exist to people acting kindly more often. With the money earned through publicity for his story, Saroo chose to reinvest it in the people and organizations that helped him succeed; namely, ISSA and his birth mother Kamla, though he also uses the book as a vehicle through which to thank those strangers who helped him. With this, Saroo ends by insisting that human kindness can very literally save lives, just as it saved his.
Human Kindness ThemeTracker
Human Kindness Quotes in A Long Way Home
Mum and Dad were very affectionate, right from the start, always giving me lots of cuddles and making me feel safe, secure, loved, and, above all, wanted. That meant a lot to a child who'd been lost and had experienced what it was like for no one to care about him.
Once, a porter appeared to understand that I was lost, but when I couldn't immediately make myself understood, he made it clear I wasn't to bother him anymore. The world of adults was closed to me, so I continued to try to solve my problem by myself.
Of course, I can't be sure what the railway worker's friend had planned or what happened to the children who were grabbed from the station that night I slept nearby, but I feel pretty certain that they faced greater horrors than I ever did.
I told them what I could. They recorded my answers on their many forms and documents. "Ginestlay" meant nothing to them. I struggled to remember the name of the place where I'd boarded the train, but could only say that my brothers called it something like "Burampourr..."
Because of all she'd been through growing up, Mum had decided that there was nothing sacrosanct about families formed only by birth parents.
She is an advocate of replacing Australia's various state laws on intercountry adoption with a simplified federal law. She's critical of governments making it too difficult to adopt and feels that if it was a little easier, maybe more families would do it.
Mum had such a dedicated belief in adoption and the authentic family that adoption created. I was worried about how my news would affect her, and I wanted to reassure her that of course they would always be my parents.
Even at this first meeting, she told me she was grateful to my parents who had raised me in Australia, and that they had the right to call me their son because they had raised me from a child and made me the man I was today. Her only concern for me, she said, was that I should have the very best life I could.
And even though it was exhausting to go over my story again and again with the media, I thought I had a kind of duty to do it, because it might help people—what had happened to me was remarkable, and might offer hope to others who wanted to find their lost family but thought it impossible.
But like the teenager who later took me to the police station, he had given me another chance to live. He hadn't profited from his act in any way...and I had never thanked him.
But my experiences have undoubtedly shaped who I am today, providing me with an unshakable faith in the importance of family—however it is formed—and a belief in the goodness of people and the importance of grasping opportunities as they are presented.