Kolkata: Abandoned at two and picked up from the road somewhere in Howrah by Mother Teresa, Gautam Lewis’ life has been an astonishing journey of twists and turns, despair and accomplishments.
Struck by polio, Lewis spent five years at the Missionaries of Charity’s home for children at Kalighat, undergoing surgeries and rehabilitation till he was adopted by a British nuclear physicist based in London. Until he left the city in 1984 to live with his adoptive mother, Lewis would be carried to a church every Sunday by Mother Teresa, who personally supervised his treatment. Now, an entrepreneur and a photographer, who is also a flying instructor, the 39-year-old is back in Kolkata with a film on Mother Teresa that will be screened at the Mother Teresa International Film Festival, which will begin on August 26.
“My earliest memory is that of flying a kite from the roof of Shishu Bhavan. It used to be very dark and dank at that time. I also remember tall women in white all around, towering over me. They looked gigantic for I was small and would mostly be lying on the ground for I couldn’t move. But I also remember feeling very safe in Mother’s presence. My child hood was full of trauma, poverty and survival and it would have remained that way had Mother Teresa not given me shelter,” said Lewis.
The crutches could not stop him from traversing the world, shuttling between London and Kolkata. A business graduate, Lewis owns a music company, a digital firm and runs Freedom in the Air, his flying school at Hertfordshire. In 2007, he became a qualified pilot after a training stint with the RAF .”There are equipment that allows physically challenged people like me to fly . The idea behind my flying school is to encourage more like me to fly ,” he added.
It was his flight from Kolkata to Auckland, where he first landed with his adoptive mother, that got him interested in aviation. “This huge flying machine took me from misery to a whole new, colourful world of opportunities. I was always keen to learn flying,” said Lewis. Even though he considers Mother Teresa the most important of his three mothers–his biological and adoptive mothers being the other two–it was not till 1997 that he met her again after leaving Kolkata. “I didn’t visit Kolkata in those 13 years. Mother was very ill but still active. She, of course, recognized me and was happy with the course my life had taken,” he said.
Could he ever trace his family? No, he said. “I don’t know where I was born and never knew my biological mother. So my adoption had to be done in New Zealand as Indian laws then didn’t allow a foreigner to adopt a child from the country .”
Photography was more of a pastime for Lewis for he couldn’t play as a kid. But this hobby brought him close to Mother after her death.
“I have been visiting India quite often in the past15 years. I have shot at all the Missionaries of Charity homes, including Shishu Bhavan where I lived. My film is based on my memories of Mother Teresa for that’s what I have. It drives me,” said Lewis, who will not visit the Vatican for Mother’s canonization. “I would rather stay in Kolkata which is perhaps closer to Mother.”