Monday 11 April 2022

Lion by Saroo Brierley

    Unlike most Book Clubs where members all read the same book, at the McBride Library’s Book Club a theme is chosen, then all the members can find a book to read that matches the theme.  For April the Book Club’s theme was “New Beginnings”.

    The story told in Lion is one of the most remarkable examples of “New Beginnings” that I have ever heard.  It seemed like a fairy tale when I first heard about Saroo Brierley’s remarkable life on a news broadcast.  I was again stunned by by his story when Saroo’s twenty-five year search for his family came out as a movie, and when the Book Club theme, New Beginning” set me seeking for a book to read and I came upon Lion on the library’s OverDrive, I immediately downloaded it.

Surely, most people have heard about Saroo’s life by now either through the news, the movie, or the book, but I will outline the story again for anyone who has missed it.  Saroo’s first five years weere spent in abject poverty, living with his mother, and siblings in a small village in India.  His Muslim father had taken a second wife and abandoned Saroo’s mother, along with his four children, leaving her struggling to provide food for them.

She worked carrying rocks in a quarry, Saroo’s older brothers, picked up odd jobs wherever they could find them, young Saroo stayed at home looking after for his very young sister.  Food was scarce, some days there was none, leaving the kids to beg for food in the neighborhood.  Saroo was always hungry, and he had to keep his little sister from eating charcoal, trying to sate her appetite. 

One day at age five, Saroo travelled by train with his older brother to a nearby city, where his brother often found work.  Saroo stayed at the train station while his brother left to find work.  Saroo fell asleep, awoke during the night to discover his brother had failed to return.

    In a panic, Saroo boarded a train thinking his brother might be on it.  He entered an empty train car, and while he was in it, the train began moving.  Saroo was terrified for the two days and nights he was alone in the moving train car.  When it finally stopped, he got out at a huge train station in an enormous city that turned out to be Calcutta.

Bewildered, five year old Saroo, was alone and totally lost.  He didn’t really know the name of the village where he lived, or the name of the city where he had boarded the train.  Only a few people in the enormous city even tried to help him, and they quickly gave up because he knew so little about where he was from.  Luckily his experience with scrounging food kicked in, because in Calcutta he had to live on the street, with all of its dangers.  He had learned to distrust the police, so he avoided going to them for help.

A Calcutta family did take him in, fed, him one night, and he trusted them enough to go with them to the police to find help.  He was put in a detention center, then later moved to an orphanage.  After several months of searching, the orphanage realized that it was impossible for him to find his family and they arranged for him to be adopted by a family in Australia.  

He was flown to Australia, where he grew into adulthood with the loving new father and mother that had adopted him.  Living in Australia he had all the advantages of an upper middle class life, but he never stopped thinking about his birth family and replaying in his mind the images of the place where they lived.

As an adult 25 years later, he discovered Google Earth and became obsessed with trying to find his birthplace, scanning the satellite photos showing the rail lines emanating out from Calcutta, searching for his tiny village in the thousands of square miles of India.  After almost 10,000 hours, did finally came across a small Indian village with all of the familiar landmarks and buildings he remembered as a five year old.

    Not knowing what he would find there, he traveled back and did find his birth mother, a brother, and a sister, who were gobsmacked to discover that Saroo was alive.

Like I said, I can think of no other story of someone having a “New Beginning” that is as powerful and remarkable as the one told in Lion.

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