His name is Kumar Bahuleyan and as a small boy he lived in a village in a desperately poor area of India. His village had no running water, electricity, toilets, schools, phones or medical care.
In the 1930’s Kumar was overwhelmed by grief as he helplessly watched two of his brothers and a sister cry out in pain day after day, each dying a horrible death from roundworm infestation after drinking contaminated water. None of these 3 children had reached the age of 8.
“The memory of the screams of my siblings in their deathbed stuck in my psyche,” Kumar told me recently by email from this distant village. “They haunt me even now.”
In turn, Kumar barely survived smallpox and typhoid fever, and other childhood diseases that in the Western World could easily be treated or prevented.
To educate Kumar seemed impossible for his family was in India’s lowest caste, “untouchables.” And their village had no schools. But his father met the headmaster of a lower-caste school and convinced him to allow Kumar, an intelligent boy, to attend, for free for the family had no money
To Kumar, this was a divine gift and he excelled in that school, and then in a high school run by Christian missionaries, and then he became an outstanding student in a medical college.
As an outstanding student, the government sent him to Scotland for an extensive neurosurgical education but 6-years-later after he graduated and returned to India, there were no jobs available in neurosurgery in a land of such poverty, for neurosurgery was in limited use.
So Kumar moved to Canada and then to New York to attend Albany Medical College, afterwards settling in Buffalo, New York in 1973 to work with a local neurosurgeon. He also became a clinical associate professor in neurosurgery at Buffalo University.
And as the years passed, Kumar’s medical practice thrived. In his youth, he had been so poor; he couldn’t afford to buy his first pair of shoes until he was in his early 20’s, and then at first put them on the wrong feet. Now the success of his medical practice made him a multi-millionaire.
Kumar could buy whatever he wanted. He lived lavishly and bought a Rolls-Royce, five Mercedes and an airplane. In spending spree after spending spree, he bought everything that captured his fancy, thinking it would bring him happiness, yet somehow his life seemed empty.
Then as he visited India and saw again the dire poverty he had known so well as a child, he knew in his heart he had to do something about it.
He went to his childhood village of Chemmanakary, and saw the same dire poverty that haunted his soul. “This village remained absolutely the same – not a road, no school, no water supply, no sanitary facilities,” he told The Buffalo News. “I looked in the [people’s] faces and saw the same people living in the same miserable conditions I had grown up with.”
Then Kumar had a life changing experience. “There was this lonely young mother standing in the wilderness carrying a 3-year-old child with a pot belly, runny nose, and scabs of scabies all over his body,” Kumar said by email. “Yes it shook me up. Here I was living in America, an icon of (an) American success story blessed with all the luxuries of life that money can buy.
“And I was looking at the helpless creature … we call a human being with all its inborn innocence, free of prejudices of caste and creed crying out for help! And I was staring at the mother with a mask-like face standing there like a statue carved in granite! She did not ask anything from me. She just stood there. Yes, that was my epiphany.”
So Kumar did something dramatic. “He built septic tanks so the people could have toilets, 3,000 units,” said his friend, Dr. Pearay Ogra. “He put new roads in … he built … 25 to 30 housing units for the indigent people, where the hospital is located.”
What hospital you ask? Yes, he built a hospital that has grown to over 200 beds. It “started for taking care of neurological diseases (and) now treats women’s and children’s medical needs as well,” added Dr. Ogra. “He has set-up clinics to provide primary care and preventive care for children. He’s (also) … setting up a school for nursing and a school for medical technicians.
“He’s trying to set-up out-patient clinics as well. It is non-denominational, non-caste system,” said Dr. Ogra. “Hindus, Christians and Muslims – everyone works as a team to help the community as a whole.”
In a village of subsistence farmers, Kumar’s projects have made him a major employer there, now providing jobs for about 400-people. And there is something else unusual. If you go to India, you won’t see his name on anything. He refused to name any of the facilities for himself, for as he told The Buffalo News, “The whole idea was one of selfless service.”
And today, at 82-years-of-age, he is investing his entire $20 million fortune there. He and his wife, Dr. Indira Kartha, spend half their time in Buffalo, the other half in India. In his village, Kumar lives at the hospital. In the mornings, he helps farmers plant their crops. Then he showers, eats lunch, and in the afternoons and evenings he does surgeries and he also sees numerous poor patients.
To ensure his health service organizations will be well funded after he is gone, his foundation set-up businesses in which the profits go to his charities. Three years ago, he opened Kalathil Health Resorts in India, a luxury hotel and spa that caters to India’s rapidly growing middle class.
This year with his friend Bill Zimmerman, he is opening the Seven Seas Sailing School with four 22 to 26 foot sailboats in India along the Arabian Sea. And they are planning East India Sailing Co. to encourage Americans to spend time as volunteers in his hospital and to teach sailing as part of a “Sailors Who Heal” program.
“My dream,” Kumar told The Buffalo News, “Is to see this all running without my help, so I can pass away peacefully, knowing that I created something and gave something back. That would justify my existence.” He added, “I’m in a state of nirvana…” as he is finding a sense of purpose and inner peace that had eluded him in his pursuit of material possessions and self-gratification.