What’s Google (News - Alert) Earth good for? Well, directions for starters. Maps and topography and, well...it’s just a fun place to kill a little spare time, zooming in the Great Pyramids of Giza or the Grand Canyon. But for one man, it was a tool to find his mother.
Saroo Brierly was only five years old when he was separated from his older brother in a train station in India in 1986, BBC News reported this week. His elder brother worked on the train, and Brierly fell asleep at a train station. When he woke later, unable to find his brother, he got onto another train and wound up in Calcutta, India’s third-largest city, where he lived briefly as a street child before being taken in by an orphanage and ultimately adopted by a couple from Tasmania in Australia.
When he grew up, he set out to find his birth family. The problem was, as a five-year-old child, Brierly had not known the name of the village from which he originated. He did, however, remember the countryside and cityscape of his childhood. Enter Google Earth.
“It was just like being Superman,” he told the BBC. “You are able to go over and take a photo mentally and ask, ‘Does this match?’ And when you say, ‘No’, you keep on going and going and going,” he said.
Brierly also used a little math to narrow down his hunt. He multiplied the time he was on the train, about 14 hours, by the average speed of Indian trains. This led him to a rough estimate of distance for his search: about 1,200 kilometers from Calcutta.
It didn’t take long for Brierly to find the town he was searching for: Khandwa.
“When I found it, I zoomed down and bang, it just came up. I navigated it all the way from the waterfall where I used to play,” he said. With a photograph of his family in hand and a memory of their first names, he found a neighbor who was able to help him track down family members, who had moved from the home he lived in as a child. Brierly was ultimately reunited with his mother, who had thought her son dead.
Brierly may soon have a bigger forum in which to tell his incredible story. The BBC is reporting that movie studios and publishers have approached him with offers. One hopes Google will front the production a little cash.
Edited by Jennifer Russell