NRI doctor donates $20 million
to his native village in Kerala
Dr. Kumar Bahuleyan
went from extreme poverty to lavish living, only to find joy
after donating his fortune
to his village in India
Buffalo, NYC, July 31, 2007
Ranvir Chawla/Gary Singh
NRI doctor, Kumar Bahuleyan, 81, retired neurosurgeon
who lived and worked in Buffalo, N.Y., has returned to his villiage
to invest his personal fortune some $20 million in charitable projects
there, including a hospital, Health Resorts, offering luxury rooms,
health spas and exercise rooms.
Bahuleyan used to visit Chemmanakary regularly. Fifty
years after Independence, unemployment was high, the village still
did not have potable drinking water, sanitation, electricity, roads
and health centres. "Even marginally well-off people had no
concept of sanitation", said Bahuleyan. "Chemmanakary
was a beautiful village contaminated by the people's lack of awareness".
In 1989, the emotionally aroused doctor was determined to "clean
up the mess" established a not-for-profit-private organization
to bring basic healthcare to Kerala villages. " I put all my
money of more than Rs 10 crore into the foundation. My attempt was
to come back here and do some community work," he says.
The Bahuleyan Charitable Foundation began with a health survey
to pick a target area. It chose an area comprising 17 sq. miles
with a population of 66,356. The foundation plunged into a latrine
construction programme in this area where 5009 of the 18,362 houses
did not have latrines. So far 619 latrines meeting WHO standards
and costing Rs 4,000 each have been built. "The people initially
had no clue what to do with a latrine and started using it as a
store room," says Bahuleyan.
In 1993 the foundation built a small clinic in the village to treat
pregnant women and children. Demand was so high in spite of poor
accessibility (there were no roads leading to the clinic), that
the centre was soon upgraded and moved to Vaikom town. The foundation
also spent Rs 50 lakh to construct a 6 km road to the main highway
and subsidiary roads to link the clinic.
In 1995, the Vaikom wing of The Indo-American Hospital opened with
30 beds. " It was named to highlight the fact that it is built
with the money I earned in the U.S. and to acknowledge the American
tax payer's contribution," explained the doctor.
But with most of the patients being poor the hospital was making
little by way of revenue and its very existence was threatened.
" I started this whole project out of my sentiments, with no
planning," said Bahuleyan. "However I realized I had to
do something revenue generating to make it viable."
A project consultant was roped in and he suggested the idea of
building a super specialty hospital to attract paying patients.
"We decided to have a neuro centre in Chemmanakary and opened
with the most modern equipment in November 1996."
A super specialty hospital in the hinterlands?
"Why not?" asked the doctor." Hospitals are all
built in cities which are inaccessible to the villagers. I want
to develop my village and its economy. Treatment here is at roughly
one-third the cost of city hospitals and free on cost for the poor."
The hospital today is the hub of life in Chemmanakary. Indeed a
far cry from the early days when the villagers viewed Bahuleyan
and his motives with suspicion. And Chemmanakary has finally made
it to the map and the millennium- electricity, drinking water, health
care and all.
Kumar Bahuleyan told local Buffalo News Paper:
- “I was born with nothing; I was educated by the people
of that village, and this is what I owe to them,” Bahuleyan
said recently in Buffalo.
- “I’m in a state of nirvana, eternal nirvana,”
he said. “I have nothing else to achieve in life. This was
my goal, to help my people. I can die any time, as a happy man.”
- “My dream is to see this all running without my help,
so I can pass away peacefully, knowing that I created something
and gave something back,” he said.
The executive director of a Buffalo sailing school, Bill Zimmermann,
who is helping Bahuleyan set up a sailing and boatbuilding school
in Chemmanakary. The venture is designed to teach sailing and boatbuilding
skills to the Indian villagers, provide more jobs and use its profits
to help fund medical treatment for the villagers.
Once Bahuleyan got hooked on the concept, he started spending 50
hours a week at Zimmerman’s Seven Seas Sailing School, located
on the Buffalo ship canal, trying to learn about his latest venture.
“He’s not mesmerizing or evangelical, but he seems
like a living saint,” Zimmermann said. “He does nothing
but imbue a sense of calm and decency. He brings out the best in
In 2004, the foundation opened the Kalathil Health Resorts, offering
luxury rooms, health spas and exercise rooms.
Bahuleyan's latest idea, East India Seven Seas Sailing company,
plans to invite applications from Americans willing to spend a few
weeks in India, to volunteer in Bahuleyan's hospital and to teach
Young Bahuleyan was one of the two survivors in a
family of five; three of his siblings died in their childhood to
water-borne disease in 1930s. “I was the oldest, feeling very
helpless, listening to the screams of these dying children, one
by one,” he said. “Their cries stuck in my psyche. Even
now it haunts me.” The Indian American doctor lost two younger
brothers and a sister
I suffered from smallpox and typhoid fever.. ...“The good
Lord saved me for a purpose,” he said. “I believe that,
As an “untouchable,” Bahuleyan had to take a roundabout
route to school because he wasn’t allowed to pass within a
few hundred yards of the Hindu temple, even though he was born a
Hindu. Bahuleyan had attended a lower-caste school and reached the
top level at age 12 or 13.
A star student, he went to high school, then a premedical school
run by Christian missionaries before attending medical college in
Madras, now called Chennai.
Fighting disease and hunger every step of the way,
Bahuleyan struggled to get an education. He was born so poor that
he didn’t wear his first pair of shoes until he went to medical
The young boy's grit and sheer brilliance carried
him through, with the help of many benefactors and government scholarships
he went on to acquire a medical degree. Life was no cake walk, but
" I am an eternal optimist", he says.
The Kerala Government sent him to the UK for neurosurgical
training as the state did not have a neurosurgeon at that time.
He returned home to the Chinese aggression; the army gobbled him
up for the armed forces did not have a qualified neurosurgeon.
Three years later he discovered " the Kerala Government did
not have a place for me; my post had been filled by a freshman".
He, a qualified neurosurgeon, had to sit at home twiddling his thumbs
waiting for bureaucratic red tape to work around his case. His patience
wore thin and a disgusted Bahuleyan fled to Ontario, Canada, seeking
employment. He eventually ended up in Buffalo, USA, where for the
first time in his life he achieved economic security. During his
26-year career, Bahuleyan was in private practice, with offices
on Linwood and Kenmore avenues and Main Street. He also served as
a clinical associate professor in neurosurgery at the University
at Buffalo before retiring in 1999. And he made millions.
- Once owning a Rolls-Royce, five Mercedes-Benzes and an airplane
- Back to his native village, where he’s traded his Mercedes
for a bicycle.
“I compare it to a kid who gets a toy, plays with it, throws
it away and gets another toy,” he said. “I knew it was
wrong, but I didn’t care. It was the hedonistic phase of my
It slowly dawned on Bahuleyan, especially after he went back to
India, that he was getting no joy from his lifestyle.
“I woke up in the morning feeling terrible,” he said.
“I kept asking myself, ‘What am I doing?’ ”
Dr. Bahuleyan, who lives in Buffalo with his wife pathologist Dr.
Indira Kartha since 1973, now spends half the year here, the other
half in India. In his native land, he oversees his foundation’s
work, gets around on a bicycle and still does almost daily surgery.