The Fairy-Tale Life Of Gautam Lewis: Toddler With Polio Is Saved By Mother Teresa : Goats and Soda The child, who had contracted polio, was taken in by Mother Teresa when he was 3. What has happened since sounds like a fairy tale.
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Mother Teresa Made Him Believe He Could Fly — And He Did

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Mother Teresa Made Him Believe He Could Fly — And He Did

Mother Teresa Made Him Believe He Could Fly — And He Did

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During her lifetime, Mother Teresa touched many different lives. Gautam Lewis was 3 years old when Mother Teresa took him into her orphanage. NPR's Julie McCarthy has the story of how Mother Teresa changed his life.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Gautam Lewis has had the sort of life that could leap off the pages of a fairy tale.


GAUTAM LEWIS: When I was a small boy, I used to live in Shishu Bhavan.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Unintelligible).

LEWIS: In this place, that's right. Aww (ph).

MCCARTHY: Afflicted with polio and abandoned as a toddler, Gautam was rescued by Mother Teresa and brought here to her home for children. At 7, he was adopted by a young British nuclear physicist who had volunteered in Calcutta. He was taken to London and educated in elite institutions, including the prep school Prince Charles attended.

On the occasion of the sainthood of the woman he calls his second mother, Gautam has returned to pay tribute with a photo exhibition retracing his years in the care of Mother Teresa's mission and with a documentary he made called "Mother Teresa And Me." In it, he interacts with the kids at his old orphanage, sharing with them the joy he felt flying kites on the roof of the home.


LEWIS: When I used to live in Shishu Bhavan, up here I used to go upstairs onto the roof and fly a kite. And now I have learned to fly airplanes as a pilot.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: You are the pilot of the sky?

LEWIS: In the sky, in an airplane. You don't believe me? (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: I believe you.

LEWIS: Good.

MCCARTHY: Gautam, now 39, is actually a certified pilot. His fascination with flight was a longing to feel liberated from his disability, which requires him to rely on crutches. He went on to train other people with disabilities to learn to fly through his pioneering program Freedom in the Air, a not-for-profit that he says is about challenging stereotypes. In chasing his dream to fly, Gautam says he followed advice Mother Teresa gave him in a private Mass just months before she died almost 20 years ago.

LEWIS: Nothing is difficult, but just different. If you can't find someone to help you do whatever you want to do, just do it on your own. And that's the last time I've spoken to her, Mother Teresa. And I've applied that probably throughout my life.

MCCARTHY: But Gautam wasn't always at ease with the part of his childhood associated with Mother Teresa. There was painful corrective surgery for polio and loneliness and feelings of abandonment. He stopped talking, and Mother Teresa called in a psychiatrist. Gautam recalls that through that dark period, she was a watchful guardian.

LEWIS: So Mother Teresa, to me, is a guardian angel that I desperately needed at one point in time. And that was fueled by her love of God, but also her dignity for the human race. Everybody - the poor, the hungry, the throwaway of the society, the unloved, the cripple - and I fitted all of those.

MCCARTHY: Gautam's transition from Calcutta to London, from being one of 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. It was only in 2007, when he returned to India on a polio eradication drive sponsored by Rotary International, that Gautam was able to reconcile with the city of his birth. He called it a catharsis. As a young man, Gautam had spent years in the heady music business in London handling edgy musicians. But the polio campaign engaged a nascent urge to help those as deprived as he had once been.

LEWIS: And if I can give back what life has given me, then that's much more valuable to me than selling 100,000 records.

MCCARTHY: Choosing to skip an invitation from the Vatican to attend the ceremony making Teresa a saint, Gautam is in Calcutta, her city and his, to refresh her legacy through music.


MCCARTHY: The one-time band manager has collaborated with a young local hip-hop collective to create an original song titled "Mora Gaang - Salvation For The Soul." 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 Gautam has been able to see the world, even touch the sky, is testament to the contribution Mother Teresa made through her own life.

LEWIS: If she didn't exist, I may not be alive.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News.

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