The right to succeed is no prerogative of the abled

Gautam Lewis – 

It makes me very proud to attend this important Business Awards Ceremony and witness the best businesses and business professionals of Indian origin in New Zealand being honoured for their success and contribution to the New Zealand economy.

Being back here in the beautiful City of Sails has made me realise just how special my first real home in Mission Bay (Auckland) was after leaving Mother Teresa’s care.

My life with polio started when I was a toddler in the Howrah district of Kolkata, India aged about 18 months.

Nightmare phase

the-right-to-succeed-dignitaries-reading-indian-newslink-anniversaryI survived polio – at a time and place when one in five children were dying of the virus – but unfortunately because I had caught polio and was paralysed in my lower limbs, and because there was no money, I was rescued by Mother Teresa and lived with her in her orphanage, where I stayed for years until I was adopted.

Many of the memories I have of Kolkata and living as an orphan are a nightmare. It was a dark, sad, and lonely period.

It is impossible for me to forget Mother Teresa – Now Saint Teresa of Kolkata. She gave me a chance to escape poverty and live out a different destiny outside India.

I have had the love of three mothers. My Birth Mother, Mother Teresa and my adopted mother, Patricia.

New beginning

Because of Polio, destiny lead me to meet Patricia and to a new life here in Auckland. This was the first time that I had a sense of belonging. I started to learn about families, how to live in a family, how to make new friends from completely different backgrounds.

I left New Zealand after 18 months and moved to London, where I went to the same school attended by Prince Charles. A stark contrast for the boy who was one of India’s poorest.

I went from speaking Bengali to speaking English with a strong Kiwi accent. I was determined to lose my Bengali to show people that I was a pukka Kiwi Briton– these are ways to survive in a new world.

I became a filmmaker, a photographer and managed some of the biggest bands in the world, which included Auckland’s ‘The D4.’ I also worked with International NGOs such as Rotary International, The World Health Organisation and UNICEF on global health security – focusing on Polio eradication in India.

Crushing poverty

the-right-to-succeed-a-section-of-the-audience-1India has shown the world that there is no such thing as impossible. Viewed against the challenges, India’s achievement is an epic success story, proof that any country that really wants to, can eradicate polio.

The World Report on Disability, produced jointly by the WHO and the World Bank suggests that more than a billion people experience disability.

People with disabilities have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty.

Those who live in a developing country are often among the poorest of the poor. As poverty leads to disability, disability also worsens poverty.

I have not allowed my disability to define who I am or what I can achieve.

The urge to fly

One of my strongest memories from the roof of Mother Teresa orphanage is kite flying and in looking up at the sky, I also saw the contrails left by jet planes.

I longed to be on one, to feel the freedom of flying in the air, with no post-polio paralysis to hold me back.

I have always wanted to be a pilot and I qualified in 2007.

This dream was made real.

During my pilot training days, I felt alive and felt a sense of freedom, of being liberated. I started to have new dreams and visualise my future where I wanted to help change people’s lives, if not try and change the world.

I therefore set up Freedom in the Air, a flight-training academy teaching disabled people to become commanders of aeroplanes.

As business leaders, as humans, we create. And yet, the greatest inequality in the world is that between creation and destruction.

Think of the millions in the world who do not have basic health, education, sanitation, and peace and suffer from hunger and disease. We are so, so lucky here. I wonder how many of us will ever truly understand and appreciate that.

Service above self

I have a deep understanding of how important voluntary organisations, government, and businesses with corporate social responsibilities are in the world today. I have had great opportunities in my life, and I believe that my calling in life is to help others who are less fortunate and celebrate in the spirit that the sky is the limit.

I leave you with a quote from my fellow Bengali and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Rabindranath Tagore:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Gautam Lewis was a guest of Indian Newslink, flown from London, United Kingdom to be the Guest Speaker at the Sixth Annual Mother Teresa Interfaith Meeting at St Paul’s College on Sunday, November 27, 2016 and at the Ninth Annual Indian Newslink Indian Business Awards at Sky City Convention Centre on Monday, November 28, 2016. The above speech was at our Business Awards. Please read related report in this issue.


  1. Gautam Lewis at the Ninth Annual Indian Newslink Indian Business Awards
  2. Our Guest of Honour reading the Seventeenth Anniversary of Indian Newslink at the Awards Ceremony
  3. A section of the audience at the Awards Ceremony

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