Saved by Mother Teresa, Gautam Lewis Reveals His Story
Abandoned in an Indian orphanage and unable to walk, Gautam Lewis afflicted with Polio when he was 18 months old was picked up by Mother Teresa’s at the age of 3 and was taken care by her, until the young boy was adopted from the orphanage by Dr Patricia Lewis, a British visitor to the centre who has PHDs in Nuclear Physics and International Law, when Gautam was 7 years old. Gautam Lewis who is 39 years now, is a successful Music and Special Events Organizer, Photographer, Video Producer, and also a Pilot. Now not only a Pilot , Gautam runs a training school for disable people to be pilots in London, and he was a special guest where he shared his testimony during an interaction held at St Agnes Special School, Bendur on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 9.30 am, as part of the “Mother Teresa International Film Festival” from 20-21 September. “If Mother Teresa didn’t exist,” Gautam Lewis says, “I may not have been alive.”!
Mangaluru: This is a story of an abandoned Indian orphanage and unable to walk due to Polio, Gautam Lewis was dealt a difficult hand early on. But after Mother Teresa’s care, the young boy, now 39 years old has quite literally spread his wings, achieving his dream of being a pilot despite using crutches, and is also a Music and Special Events Organizer, Photographer and Video Producer. Mother Teresa, now a Saint is renowned for her saintly saving of orphaned children – and one such orphan was Gautam Lewis who was abandoned by his parents, revealed his story how Saint Mother Teresa saved his life after he was struck down with polio as a child.
The interaction with Gautam Lewis arranged by Fr Richard D’Souza-Director of Canara Communication Centre of Mangaluru Diocese, and Fr Victor Vijay Lobo-Director of Sandesha, Mangaluru, Regional Communication Centre-Karnataka Region, and Missionary of Charity Sisters, Mangaluru at St Agnes Special School-Bendur here on Monday, 19 Sept. was attended by a packed-full hall of Special Children, their parents, Nuns and well-wishers. Since it was day of joy and gladness, Sr Thejaswi AC of St Agnes Special School (SASS) gave a brief introduction for the purpose of the gathering in English, which was followed by a gist of the same in Kannada by SASS teacher Marcelline. Quoting Mother Teresa’s words, “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts”- the hearts of the audience were lifted up in prayer to God through a prayer song rendered by SASS children.
Quoting Mother Teresa’s words, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless”, Sr Maria Shruthi AC-Principal of SASS welcomed the gathering and the dignitaries, followed by inauguration of Mother Teresa International Film Festival 2016, by offering petals of flowers by the Chief guest Gautam Lewis, along with other dignitaries on the dais namely- Fr Richard D’Souza, Fr Victor Vijay Lobo, Sr Shruthi, Sr M Bernadetta- Superior of Missions of Charity sisters convent, and couple of Special kids of SASS. Fr Victor Lobo briefed the audience about the Film festival and other programmes associated with this event. Vote of thanks was proposed by SASS teacher, Philomena, while the programme was compered by Sr Sonal AC of SASS.
Addressing the gathering through a audio-video presentation, Gautam Lewis shared his testimony from his early childhood until now, how Saint Mother Teresa had saved his life and what he is now is only because of Mother Teresa whom he describes as his “Loving, Caring and a Life saver Mother”. Now – after a career managing the likes of The Libertines, including notorious rocker Pete Doherty – Gautam Lewis payed homage to the humble woman who saved his life with a documentary film named “Mother Teresa and Me”.
Including harrowing scenes of his past as well as images from modern day Calcutta, Lewis hopes the film “Mother Teresa and Me” will reflect ‘the chance she gave him to have a different destiny. Speaking about his difficult childhood, Lewis explained he was taken to the orphanage by his birth mother who was unable to cope after he contracted polio aged three. As a direct result of his polio, he couldn’t use his legs and with walking aids not readily available, he was forced to crawl to get around. He said: “At the time I wasn’t walking with crutches, so I used to crawl on the floor. Being on the floor everyone was always really tall, except of course for Mother Teresa.”
He lived alongside Mother Teresa at the orphanage for five years, from the age of three to seven. The polio-survivor further revealed how the ‘softly-spoken’ Saint would take time out of her busy schedule to visit the children in the home. He said: “She always came to say hello to the kids, like a mother checking we were alright and to sure everyone was doing their job properly.” Lewis, when he was 7-years-old, was eventually adopted from the orphanage by Dr Patricia Lewis, a British visitor to the centre who has PHDs in Nuclear Physics and International Law. He revealed his adopted mother, now 59, had always wanted to visit Calcutta and decided to take the plunge after finishing her studies.
Writing a letter of her intent to visit the area, officials in India readily accepted her request, believing she was a medical doctor willing to volunteer. After touring several different children’s centres with nurse friend Jane Webb, Dr Patricia saw a five-year-old Gautam
Gautam was privately educated and even attended the same school as Prince Charles, Bedales in Hampshire, where he rubbed shoulders with children of royals and celebrities. After picking up a business degree at Southampton’s Solent University, he went into the music industry managing Libertines Pete Doherty from 2003-2006. From a tough life in the orphanage to an even tougher job of “trying to keep Pete Doherty alive”, Gautam revealed after spending three Christmases with the star in his Bethnal Green home and seeing musicians in ‘self-induced distress’ he decided to leave rock n’ roll for good.
Last month, he returned to Calcutta ‘to retrace Mother Teresa’s past and where his past crossed her path’. Visiting all the orphanages in the city, he noticed the stark contrasts between his own childhood and for today’s children in the home. On the occasion of the canonization of the woman he calls his “second mother,” Gautam Lewis even has exhibited a series of photographs in Kolkotta depicting Mother Teresa’s life, and his own childhood, and to premiere a documentary he made called “Mother Teresa and Me”. In the film, he visits the orphanage where he once lived and chats with the children he calls his “brothers and sisters,” who live there now. Lewis, now 39, is, in fact, a certified pilot.
His fascination with flight was a longing to feel lifted from his polio-induced disability. He learned from an ace Royal Air Force pilot. He now trains other people with disabilities to fly, through Freedom in the Air, a not-for-profit he founded that he says is “about challenging stereotypes.” He was named an ambassador last year for the Douglas Bader Foundation, which promotes the welfare of people with disabilities and is named for the double amputee Royal Air Force pilot who flew aerial victories in World War II. Gautam, who set up Freedom In The Air to help disabled people fly, added: “It’s too easy to dwell on negativity. Yes life is hard and awful but through all of that there is a lot of joy.
“One thing I did notice, that in 2016, they now prioritize education and health care. They’re more colourful, the kids are happier and they have a childhood. There’s a massive shift in how they are cared for.” But what does he think his life would have been like if he hadn’t left? “I would have had a much harder life, I wouldn’t have had experience of travelling the world. I don’t think my life would have been as rich. I would have had a simple life but been alive.” added Lewis.
Gautam Lewis has had the sort of life that could spring from the pages of a fairy tale. In pursuing his dream to take to the skies, Lewis says he has followed advice Mother Teresa gave him in a private Mass, just months before she died in September 1997. “Nothing is difficult, but just different,” Lewis recalls her saying. And she added: “If you can’t find someone to help you do whatever it is you want to do, just do it on your own.” He says he has applied her wisdom throughout his life. There was, however, a long period when Gautam distanced himself from the part of his childhood associated with Mother Teresa.
“I don’t have the same childhood most children would want to have,” he recalls. “Obviously [there was] love, because of the care. But in terms of education, kindergarten, playtime, exploring the world, being a child — it wasn’t there.” Instead, there was painful corrective polio surgery and feelings of loneliness and isolation. He recalls crying for hours at the orphanage. When he overheard a nun saying that no one from his family would ever come to get him, he stopped talking for six months. Mother Teresa called in a psychiatrist to help — and, he says, she remained a watchful guardian during that dark period.
Lewis underwent half-dozen corrective surgeries after contracting polio at 18 months. His treatment, under the care of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, included the straightening of his legs with weights strapped to his limbs for six months. Lewis did not see Mother Teresa on a daily basis but he says she always checked in “on her children.” He especially recalls Sundays, when she would come and get them, “dressed up in our best clothes” and take them to the chapel for Mass. “Mother Teresa to me is a guardian angel that I desperately needed at one point in time,” Lewis says. Their relationship was “fueled by her love of God and her [commitment to the] dignity of the human race: everybody — the poor, the hungry, the throwaway of the society, the crippled. And I fitted all of those.”
Lewis’s transition from being “one of the India’s poorest” to being “one of the lucky ones” was fraught. At school with the children of rock stars and royalty, he pretended that the first seven years of his life didn’t exist. “I hid the truth from them. I didn’t want them to tease me because I was not like them,” he says. At 18, during his “gap” year before starting college, he traveled back to Kolkata in the company of his adoptive family and close friends. The trip triggered a flood of buried memories and an identity crisis. “Who am I? Am I this guy that lives on the street,” like the people he saw huddled beneath tarpaulins, he asked. “I couldn’t get out quick enough.”
It was only when he returned to India in 2007 on a polio eradication drive at the invitation of Rotary International that Lewis was able to reconcile with the city of his birth. Rotary had discovered his blog on being a pilot. The trip included a spell in Kolkata during which he shot a series of black and white photographs retracing his early life, a project he called “cathartic.” Lewis had been working in the music industry, managing top bands in Britain, including the Libertines, Hives and The Kills. He gave that up. From handling edgy musicians he went on to administer polio vaccinations to India’s poorest, helping those as deprived as he had once been.
Today, Gautam lives in London. He raises money for his nonprofit flight school, acts as a consultant for other philanthropies and is a photographer as well. “I take jobs that pay the bills,” he says. He adds that he’s single but is seeking a life partner, hoping to have a family. “I struggle with …Finding girlfriends – and that’s nothing to do with having a disability. A musician friend and I spend quite a bit of time talking about how two interesting guys like us can’t find a girlfriend – what’s wrong with us?! ” jokes Gautam. He has also recently restarted his music management career. His first project is an homage to Mother Teresa. He chose to skip an invitation from the Vatican to attend the ceremony making Teresa a saint. Instead, he was in Kolkata, her city and his, to honor her legacy through music.
The onetime band manager has scouted local musical talent and brought a young hip-hop collective called the Cypher Projekt into the Mother Teresa project. He has worked with them to produce an original song titled “Mora Gaang — Salvation for the Soul.” The proceeds from the song will go to nonprofits that work with street children in Kolkata. He hopes the music will help introduce Mother Teresa to the next generation. The lyrics echo his own life: “Oh mother hold me up, let me fly. Lift me up high in your hands and for once, let me see the world.”
That this abandoned child has been able to see the world, and soar into the skies, and has known the support and embrace of a family is testament to the power of Mother Teresa’s work. “If she didn’t exist,” Gautam Lewis says, “I may not have been alive.”
Following is the schedule of the Mother Teresa International Film Festival 2016:
20th September Jeppu Seminary – CM Hall:
9.00am – Mother and Me 59 min; A call within a call 30min – Interaction with Gautam Lewis
11.00am – The living legend 28min; Nirmal Hriday 59min
1.00pm – Mother Teresa The legacy 80min; Love till hurts 20min
3.00pm – In the name of Gods Poor – 89min
5.30 pm – Mother Teresa – Petrie – 80 min – Interaction with Gautam Lewis
21st September at Padua College Hall:
9.00am – Mother and Me 59 min; A call within a call 30 min – Interaction with Gautam Lewis
11.30am – Mother Teresa The legacy 80min; Love till hurts 20min
1.30pm – The living legend 28min; Nirmal Hriday 59min
4.00pm – The Letters – 89 min
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