Twenty-six years later, lost boy uses Google Earth to track down family

Twenty-six years later, lost boy uses Google Earth to track down family

Summary: Here's an example of how technology can impact us in ways that we wouldn't believe

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I'm not sure how many stories like this exist in the world today but this one that has recently been making the rounds on various blogs for the past few months stands out for being both sensational and powerful in reminding us about the true power that technology can have in bringing value to human life.

This is the heartbreaking story of a five-year-old boy named Saroo Munshi Khan who, in 1986, went to the local train station in Berhanpur, India along with his 9-year old brother Guddu to hunt for coins that passengers may have dropped on the tracks. The two of them lived with their day-labourer mother and a sister in a one room hut with brick walls and a tin roof. Times were tough and the boys often had to scrounge around for food and money. That fateful day, Saroo was visibly tired so his brother told him to nap on a bench at the station while he went scavenging, and that he would be back soon.

Saroo fell asleep but when he woke up Guddu was nowhere to be found. In a panic, he jumped on to a stationary train at the platform, desperately searching for his brother. Not able to find him, Saroo sat down on a seat and lapsed into a fitful sleep. When he awoke, the train was empty and 1,500 kilometers away from his home in the (to him, alien) Indian city of Calcutta (now Kolkata).

Somehow, Saroo managed to survive on Calcutta's streets for several weeks after which he was taken into a local orphanage. Soon after, he was adopted by an Australian family in Hobart, Tasmania which is where he ended up living.

Decades later, Saroo got an itch to try and figure out his origins. So he mapped out a search radius in order to try and guess the distance that the train had taken him. After endless hours of looking at Google Earth imagery, he somehow stumbled upon a landmark that released a floodgate of childhood memories. It was only a matter of time before he was able to locate a neighbourhood and the roof of a house that looked familiar. 

So, in 2012, Saroo flew from Australia to Khandwa, India where locals helped him trace a path back to his mother brother and sister. Twenty-six years later, he was home. 

Here's a 3 minute youtube documentary of his quest (the beginning bits are not very clear about how the nightmare began but it captures his journey back home to meet his mother 26 years later):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXEvZ8B04bE

Here’s a short interview with him by an Australian TV newsmagazine that also uses a re-enactment:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hS82UEPo5I

Topics: Google, India, Google Apps

Rajiv Rao

About Rajiv Rao

Rajiv is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi who is interested in how new technologies, innovation, and disruptive business forces are shaking things up in India.

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2 comments
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  • Wow..

    Story is so much similar to the new Google ad in India.
    Raju Das
  • New Goole Ad

    Is that right? Haven't seen it....But I'm sure they're milking it for all it's worth!
    Rajiv Rao