Dubai: Saroo Brierley was accidentally separated from his biological mum aged five after falling asleep on an empty train carriage and waking up 1,600-km away on the other side of India back in 1986.
Twenty five years later he scoured hundreds of train stations on Google Earth from his adoptive parent’s house in Australia and was eventually able to identify his old village based on vague memories alone.
Shortly after he travelled back to the town that he now knows is called Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh to be reunited with his mum and two siblings in 2012.
All this was documented in his 2013 book A Long Way Home, which was turned into the 2016 film Lion starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman.
I need the blessing of my mum and brother and sister to go and see him, because he sort of left us, well not sort of, he did leave us.
But now Brierley, 37, is planning a sequel and he’s in the UAE capital next week for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) from April 24-30 to tell us more.
“The sequel would involve doing that journey again but to unite with my father,” Brierley told Gulf News, ahead of the Book Fair. “I know where he is in Bhopal, and I know he’s still alive, but I need the blessing of my mum and brother and sister to go and see him, because he sort of left us, well not sort of, he did leave us.
“He left my family destitute and in deprivation, we went through adversity, a woman and four children. I know we were in the lower echelons of society, but we went down super low after he left.”
Unbeknown to Brierley, his older brother Guddu was hit and killed the night Saroo fell asleep on the carriage while the pair had gone out begging in local train stations to raise money for their mum.
While Brierley’s life took him to Tasmania via a Calcutta orphanage, his mum and his two other siblings stayed in India, oblivious of what had happened to Saroo, who himself thought he would never establish which of India’s 8,000-plus train stations he actually went missing from.
“There is bitterness,” Brierley added of his dad. “That anger and also the question of why he did that is there as well. But I’m 37 now and to have bitterness, anger and bad vibration in your body is not something I want, I guess what happened between my mother and him is between them and back then, but this is now and we move forward. I’m still alive, unfortunate events happened with my father, but life is not perfect.
“There’s still closure to be had,” he added. “But it’s not massive. I’ve only seen him for five to six hours in my life when I was aged four or five so that bond between father and son is not really there.”
As well as the sensitivities of his Indian family, who may object to him pursuing his father, he’s also aware of the feelings of his adoptive Australian parents, Sue and John from Hobart.
“I have an allegiance with my adoptive father and I don’t want to mess that up in my head,” he said. “But they [his adoptive parents] have never held me back and always expected me to go on this journey of discovery full of affirmation.”
Having travelled back to India over 20 times since finding his mum, he now plans to visit again in the coming months to potentially begin the search for his dad.
“It’s just an idea at the moment though and that idea will develop, I can’t put a specific time on it, but I think we’ll see each other,” added Brierley, who is planning to have his sequel — working title: Lion Evolutions — out by the end of next year.
Abu Dhabi International Book Fair
Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC)