At Home at the End of Google Earth

Separated from his older brother, five-year-old Saroo Munshi Khan found himself lost in the slums of Calcutta. Nearly 20 years later, living in Australia, he began a painstaking search for his birth home, using ingenuity, hazy memories, and Google Earth.

  1. It was just a small river flowing over a dam, but to five-year-old Saroo Munshi Khan it felt like a waterfall. He played barefoot under the downpour as trains passed nearby. When night fell, he would walk a couple miles home.

    Home was a tiny mud-brick house with a tin roof. He lived there with his mother, Kamala, who worked long hours carrying bricks and cement, two older brothers, Guddu and Kullu, and a younger sister, Shekila. His father, Munshi, had abandoned the family two years earlier. Guddu, then aged nine, had assumed his role as the man of the house. Guddu spent his days searching passenger trains for fallen coins. Sometimes he didn’t return for days. On one occasion, he was arrested for loitering at the train station.

    One day, Guddu took Saroo on a road he’d never seen before, to a factory where Guddu had heard that they might be able to steal eggs. As the boys made their way out of the coop—holding their shirts like hammocks, full of eggs—two security guards came after them, and they were separated.

    Saroo was illiterate. He couldn’t count to 10. He didn’t know the name of the town he lived in or his family’s surname. But he had a keen sense of direction and paid attention to his surroundings. He retraced the journey in his mind, and his feet followed—through the dusty streets, turning past the cows and the cars, a right here near the fountain, a left there by the dam—until he stood panting at his doorstep. He was out of breath and nearly out of eggs, so many ...