For the first time in over two decades, the Dhangre family of Thane is planning a double whammy - celebrating Diwali, and the return of Ganesh, the child who was lost 22 years ago and found this week, thanks to the tattoo on his arm.
Bunking school one day, then six-year old Ganesh Dhangre, went missing while playing. He strayed too far from their home in Indira Nagar, Wagle Estate suburb of Thane in 1991.
Ganesh suddenly came back two days ago -- and his mother instantly recognized the tattoo of her name, Manda, which she had inscribed on him when he was barely four years old.
When Ganesh, 28, arrived at the modest Dhangre dwelling, the little lost boy, given up for dead, had become a smart, uniformed policeman with the Quick Response Team of Maharashtra Police.
After the crying, weeping, joyous reunion with his mother, brother, step-father, two step-sisters and a step-brother -- with people of the entire locality joining them, Ganesh recounted his ordeal of 22 years.
"We were feeling bored of going to school that day and I was playing with my friend, but somehow we strayed too far and could not return. Then, an older boy said he would take us for an outing, so we accompanied him," Ganesh told IANS Thursday night.
The trio caught an outstation train from Thane station and they alighted at some station after nearly an hour. Later, they crossed the bridge and went to the opposite platform where his two friends asked him to wait for sometime.
"For a long time, they did not return. I was left alone, hungry, not knowing what to do, where to go. I just caught the first train which came there and after many hours, landed at what I later learnt was Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus," Ganesh said.
His Bollywood style life started from that point -- surviving on bits and pieces thrown by commuters, left-overs outside roadside canteens and small eateries, using public toilets, sleeping on railway benches and growing up on the mean streets of Mumbai.
Over the next couple of years, he swept empty railway coaches to make some money to survive - eating 'vada-pav', 'bhelpuri', occasionally 'puri-bhaji' and other cheap street food, till a pavement dweller's family "adopted" him.
He continued to work and live with them till some social workers noticed him and shifted him to Anand Kendra, an orphanage in Worli.
"There, I got decent clothes and a chance to salvage my life. They admitted me to the nearby Lovegrove Municipal School where I studied till Class VII and later I moved to Thane's M.K.N. High School till Class X, and later Sanket College for my higher secondary. Now, I am doing my first year of graduation through distance education," Ganesh said proudly.
Manda Dhangre spared no efforts to trace him out.
"We had even circulated his photographs to remote parts of the district, sought police help, but nothing worked. After years, we gave him up as gone forever," said Manda with tears of joy welling up in her eyes.
Ganesh, who excelled in sports, appeared for the state police exams and was selected in 2010. He worked in various capacities till his current posting as a QRT member.
Ganesh and the entire family is indebted to QRT Inspector Shrikant Sondhe, who was moved by the young recruit's plight last month.
"He used all the police investigation techniques, taking leads from the tattoo on my arm and finally succeeded in tracing out my family," a grateful Ganesh said.
As a beaming Sondhe stood nearby, Ganesh comforted his family: "Now I am back, you have nothing to worry. I will do whatever best I can for my brothers and sisters."
To prove his words, Ganesh has left the youth hostel where he lived for the past one year and moved back in with his family -- after 22 long years.