NEW YORK: An Indian American who made millions as a neurosurgeon and lived a lavish life, once owning a Rolls-Royce, five Mercedes-Benzes and an airplane has donated $20 million to his native village in Kerala.
Kumar Bahuleyan, 81, who was born to a Dalit family in India, decided to donate his personal fortune as a gratitude to his village, to establish a neurosurgery hospital, a health clinic and a spa resort in Chemmanakary, in Kottayam district of Kerala.
"I was born with nothing; I was educated by the people of that village, and this is what I owe to them," Bahuleyan said in Buffalo where he has lived since 1973.
"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."
The urge to do something for his village arose some 20 to 25 years ago, when Bahuleyan returned to Chemmanakary and was struck by how little it had changed.
"The village remained absolutely the same - not a road, no school, no water supply, no sanitary facilities," he said. "I looked in the (people's) faces and saw the same people living in the same miserable conditions I had grown up with."
Bahuleyan has come full circle: from dire poverty in India, to the lifestyles of the rich in America and back to his native village, where he's traded his Mercedes for a bicycle, The Buffalo News reported.
The Indian American doctor lost two younger brothers and a sister 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 told the paper. "Their cries stuck in my psyche. Even now it haunts me."
As a former 'untouchable', belonging to the lowest strata of Hindu society, 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.
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.
Later he went to the United Kingdom for neurosurgical training at a college in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he spent six years before returning home. But he couldn't land a job in his specialty.
"They (government) didn't know what to do with me," he said. "There was no position available for a neurosurgeon. Many people didn't know what neurosurgery was."
So Bahuleyan went to Kingston and then Albany Medical College, before coming to Buffalo in 1973 to work with neurosurgeon Dr John Zoll.
Bahuleyan never saw ice cream until he was in medical college in his early 20s. And he remembers buying his first pair of shoes as a young adult; he put the right shoe on his left foot and realised it didn't fit.
During his 26-year career, Bahuleyan served as a clinical associate professor in neurosurgery at the University at Buffalo before retiring in 1999. And he made millions.
"I didn't ask for the money," he told The Buffalo News. "The money came to me. My secretary said to me, 'Dr Bahuleyan, you're making too much money.' I had never had any money. So I went berserk with money."
In 1989, he set up the Bahuleyan Charitable Foundation, which built a small clinic in India for young children and pregnant women in 1993 in south India. Bahuleyan's foundation built the Indo-American Hospital Brain and Spine Centre in 1996, starting with 80 beds.
None of the facilities carries his name. 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 sailing.
Bahuleyan, who lives with his wife, pathologist Indira Kartha, spends half the year in the US, the other half in India where he oversees his foundation's work, gets around on a bicycle and still does almost daily surgery.