Five Minutes With: Saroo Brierley
Five Minutes With: Saroo Brierley
Saroo Brierley, who inspired the movie, Lion, based on his 2014 autobiography, A Long Way Home, is an unforgettable character, both off screen and on (beautifully portrayed by Dev Patel). A heartbreaking tale about family, loss and identity, Brierley chats with MiNDFOOD about his remarkable life.
Your life is very inspiring. Can you talk about the lessons you’ve learned?
The main lesson I learned was to listen to your heart, listen to what is tickling down in the core of you and that is what I did. I had been suppressing it for such a long time. Everything happens for a reason, that’s I believe now in regards to finding my family. But the biggest lesson is to listen to myself and know that you can do anything, the sky is not the limit, it’s just a little boundary and we can go further.
How did this journey come about for you, seeing your life on the screen?
Basically, from the day that I landed in India and found my family, there was the local policeman, and he alerted the local media which then went absolutely viral in India and then global. Then, there was a request for a book from four different publishing companies and then after that, I think we got about twenty to thirty production companies that wanted the life rights. So I was just very ecstatic and very elated about it all when that point came. But I had a great manager and we worked together collectively.
It was so fortunate that you were able to re-connect with your birth family. Was there a conflict of Australian life and Indian culture that exists in you?
I don’t think there’s been a conflict at all. Finding my identity was the best thing I ever did. But there’s no oddity at all between the two. I am an Australian and Australia is where I came to and I identify with the culture, the language, the people, the food, the environment. It would be silly for me to say that I am an Indian, when I grew up in Australia for the last 29 years now. But there’s absolutely no conflicts between the two, at all from my birth mother to my adoptive mother, we all live in harmony and that’s great. One just wants to know that I am still alive and that I ring her at least once a month and just talk about the 25 years of separation, that is a long time being apart. And due to the planets realigning altogether, we were able to meet again.
What impact did meeting your mother have on you?
Well when I found her, she was pretty good health wise and her living conditions she were quite sustainable. She has always been working which is pretty good for a 63 year old woman, to keep the joints and the mind functioning. So one of the things that I did was, I didn’t want her to pay any more rent for the house, so I bought her a house which is a great feeling. And she didn’t want to move from her neighbourhood so we kept the same house which I think was great because it would have been wrong to take her out from the house that she is in to somewhere else that is nicer. That is where her friends are and she was happy with that. But additionally I am helping the ISA, the Indian Sponsorship of Adoption, our society of adoption, helping little kids at the adoption home that I went to with cutlery and crockery and IT gear and so on. I also help my hometown every month by feeding the people on the streets with a rice soup, which. And that was something that I used to know when I was a kid back in Khandwa, my hometown, that I used to go and get when we didn’t have any food for the family.
How does it make you feel that a movie has been made about you? Especially from a childhood that was fraught with such despair to such an unlikely outcome?
Well, I am very humble. Extremely humbled, touched, and I don’t mean to boast, but proud too, that something like this has come about. I didn’t really envisage my life taking shape like this. I think the audience, from people that are reading the book, to the Facebook page, to everyone was commenting that ‘this would be a great movie’, were happy to see it.
Can you talk about the emotional toll from your early years?
Well, the thing about it in the lost stage was that every day was just survival. Being lost in Calcutta, I was like, I need this and that. It was all to do with survival. It was raw nerves and it was taking whatever came at that moment regardless of what it was and just fighting to live at the end of the day. If I was sensitive and emotional about things, like we are in Australia and in the western countries, then I think I would have been a goner, because a person like that, will not last. I lasted for quite a bit, for quite a few weeks. And when the orphanage heard that I was there for quite a few weeks by myself in Calcutta striving to survive, they couldn’t believe it. They said that they wouldn’t think that a person like me could live there and stay alive for a day, let alone a few weeks.
It’s incredible that a four year old could survive under those circumstances.
It’s a dangerous place for a kid that doesn’t stand more than a meter tall in height and has no language and who states, ‘I am lost.’ And at that time there was quite a bit happening in that particular area, where they were smuggling children in Calcutta. But I didn’t stay in the station and just sit there and wait for someone to help me. I had moved from station because people who stay stagnant in the one place have a higher chance of being taken.
Where do you live now and what does the future look like for you?
I live in Hobart and I am just concentrating on promoting the movie as well as the book, so hopefully there will be touring with that. I used to work in my family business, so I have taken a gap year to just concentrate on this, but hopefully later on I will go back to help mum and dad with the business because they aren’t getting younger.
What is it like being in LA and doing interviews?
I am extremely overwhelmed. I am so elated. I never envisaged something like this to be happening and from the bottom of my heart, just truly humble about what is happening. And movies like this and stories like this, just don’t come out all the time. And I am the subject. (laughs)
What was it that triggered you and pushed you forward to finding your family at the age of 25?
When I came to Australia mum had this map of India on the wall in my bedroom. I think she put it there for a strategic reason, so I would never forget where I came from. And as time passed and went by from being a child to a teenager to being a young adult to where I am now, I think that was just there because it reminded me all the time. But it was so hard, because every time, I used to look at that map and think, ‘Where is Burhanpur?’ And I tried to find it. And coming home after work, having a few drinks and just sometimes feeling such dismay thinking, ‘I am never finding this place.’ I’d look at the map and think, ‘How?’
But Google Earth came and it was the best thing that had ever happened. Whilst looking on the map I had visual memories that you couldn’t do with an Atlas. You could put images from your memory on Google Earth, it’s like you can pair the two up. There were times where I would search and times where I wouldn’t search. It came to a point where I was in my 20s – which is a pivotal time for a lot of people, male or female, where you want to get married or you want to take a different path with your occupation, or you want to move states, and for me it was the time of trying to find my family. That is when I really started to look on Google Earth. I don’t know why it came at that time. That was destiny for me and I am proud and happy that it all worked out.