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The Women Who Hold Up My Sky

The Women Who Hold Up My Sky

Once upon a time, there was a giggling group of three girls running through the hallowed hallways of St. Xavier’s college and arriving late to class. My first meeting with Indira Kanungo now Bodani at the tender age of 15. Our group extended to five women that I still get to call friends. We were all soon on a  pet name basis and Indi became my buddy whose home I would always stop at on my way to college. We would give each other fashion advice and inevitably change outfits a few more times before we decided we were cute enough to hit the canteen, because by then we had missed all our classes!  We are both March born and have many traits that we share and recognise in one another. 


Our life and career choices, like marriage and for me flying, as crew in the Middle East saw us all change addresses and lose touch for several years, but,  whenever we did see one another, there was always a general ease in the company of whom I can only describe as old friends. We seemed to pick up where we left off and those years we lost touch seemed like they never existed. I always joke and say, “ you can’t beat history, it will always trump geography.” 


Indi had Yuvraj at a time that I was not married and then moved to New York.

After I was married, we moved to Bombay and resumed our friendship. Our son Tristan was born in 2008 in the Netherlands and I remember the initial shock and sadness that  I was feeling while we were having him observed because we thought he may be on the autism spectrum. At the time autism was just a word I knew that meant neurologically different.

My friends who saw me struggling gave me everything I needed; the hugs, unconditional love, advice and a soft place to fall.

Indi; was the only parent and friend I knew who had had a special needs child and it was her attitude, courage and patience that was truly inspiring and transformative for me. She had gleaned so much information through helping her son that she was a living source of knowledge.  We engaged in the most thought provoking debates and deep conversations. When I felt I was drowning, these women held me up, each of them brought their own unique perspective and experiences. I had school teachers and psychologist friends who gave me so much insight and courage.  When I didn’t know what to do next, Indi always knew what I needed to try and to do for Tristan, it was an ever changing dialogue.

When my son was non verbal, these women just loved him and when he could, he called them his “fan club”. They have always been his cheerleaders. 

They say people you are meant to meet will always cross your path and I know with Indi that meeting has come full circle.

When Indira and Dharmil were going to start Gateway school, I remember going for the wonderful presentation and seeing the film in which Yuvraj shared his journey with us and showed us that no obstacle was insurmountable. The determination and motivation that he had to keep trying until his goals had been achieved was beautiful and emotional to watch because I knew his family had been the wind beneath his wings. My son got to know both Indis sons and Veer is still his best buddy.


I started to write for an online magazine in India to spread awareness and inclusion about autism.


These were our stories and about our son and I wanted people to understand that a diagnosis really is a piece of paper meant to steer you in the right direction and that you could use to avail of the right help for your child. My message was; the earlier you try to help your child, the better it is for the whole family. The transition from having a diagnosis and accepting it and then doing everything in your power to help your child is a journey in itself. You will soon realize you also get to know yourself better through this process and sometimes, like Indira, realise that this was your life’s purpose all along. I realised that our stories resonated with other families and that I found this experience to be as cathartic as it was rewarding and things seem to fall into place so seamlessly when my passion for writing and my purpose collided at the blog at Gateway School where I get to mentor, write and edit personal stories.

I have enjoyed mentoring and helping parents, students and ex-students tell their stories in their own words. It is my privilege to be a part of the Gateway family.



Author: Shalini Sawhny – Braxhoofden





  • Jossie O'Neill
    April 1, 2022

    Like you, that darling Indi transformed my life as well and many others at The Gateway School of New York. We are so blessed to have this bright, beautiful and generous human being in our lives. One day, I hope to meet Indi’s college friend!

  • Jossie O'Neill
    April 1, 2022

    Indi! Yes! Quite an amazing human being. She has transformed many, in Mumbai and New York! Would love to meet you one day and share our stories of “Indi” . We love her here in NYC.
    Jossie, retired from The Gateway School in NY

  • Shalini
    April 22, 2022

    Thanks Jossie ! How kind ! I’m sure indi has touched many lives and helped many souls with her caring and kindness .
    I do hope to meet you some day too ! That would be enriching for both of us !

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