A Boy Oversleeps on Train, Uses Google Maps to Find Family 25 Years Later

by Matt Hershberger Nov 2, 2013

When Saroo Munshi Khan was five years old, he went with his older brother to scrounge for change on a passenger train in a town about two hours away from his small hometown. Saroo became tired and hopped on a nearby train where he thought his brother was, then fell asleep. When he woke up, he was in Calcutta — nearly 900 miles away. Saroo tried to find his way back, but didn’t know the name of his hometown, and as a tiny, illiterate boy in a vast city full of forgotten children, he had virtually no chance of getting home.

He was a street child for a while, until a local adoption agency hooked him up with an Australian couple who brought him to live in Hobart, Tasmania. Saroo moved there, learned English, and grew up, but he never stopped looking for his family and his hometown. Decades later, he discovered Google Earth, and, following rail tracks and giving himself a prescribed radius based off of how long he thought he was asleep and how fast he thought the train was going. He knew he grew up in a warm climate, he knew he spoke Hindi as a child, and he’d been told he looked like he was from East India. Finally, after years of scouring the satellite photos, he recognized a few landmarks, and, after chatting with an administrator of a nearby town’s Facebook page, he realized he’d found home.

The video that Google Maps created telling Saroo’s story is incredible, but do yourself a favor and read the fantastic Vanity Fair profile on Saroo’s story. And the next time you hear someone make a comment about how technology is making us lonelier and more isolated, remember Saroo.

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