The only thing that was handed down to him was extreme poverty. Born in a marginalized family, pressure of surviving was greater than fighting society’s stigma for being an untouchable. Life was practically and emotionally challenging. He saw three of his siblings die in front of him because they drank contaminated water from sewer. This had also taken a toll on his health as many-a-times he too would drink water from the same source. It was his only choice. Frequent diseases like typhoid and other fevers weakened his body to the extend he could not do any physically challenging work. But all these mammoth difficulties could not dampen his enthusiasm.
For him hope for a better tomorrow was the only reason to live and his passion to overcome difficulties sprung from within. Defeating reality this boy went on to become a billionaire neurosurgeon who owns a Rolls Royce, five Mercedes Benz cars, and an aircraft among other luxuries. He has also donated a whopping sum of Rs 130 crore for developmental works in his village where he faced life-threatening difficulties in his childhood.
Dr Kumar Bahuleyan was born into a poor, untouchable family in Chemmanakary village of Kottayam district in Kerala. His village lacked basic facilities like running water, electricity, toilets, schools, phones or medical care. His father was a labor who would get work very infrequently. His family was so poor that even affording daily food was a luxury. His emotional health was frail as he saw his two brothers and a sister die because of roundworm infestation after drinking contaminated water from a sewer.
The turning point of his life was when headmaster from a nearby school for lower caste students came to his rescue. On Bahuleyan’s father’s request, the headmaster decided to educate Bahuleyan for free. This courtesy was shown because the headmaster observed an uncommon zeal for studying in Bahuleyan. He had to take a longer route everyday to reach the school as his family was not allowed to walk on a street close to village temple. But all these difficulties did not deter Bahuleyan’s determination. He excelled in education and went to Scotland to study medical science on government scholarship. Kumar graduated as a neurosurgeon and returned to India after six years. Despite sound qualification he could not get a job as neurosurgery was relatively new to India.
Kumar moved to Canada and then to New York to attend Albany Medical College, later deciding to settle in Buffalo, New York in 1973 to work with a local neurosurgeon. He also became a clinical associate professor in neurosurgery at the Buffalo University.
As the years passed, Kumar’s medical practice thrived. There was a time 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 had achieved everything that is just a dream for many. He bought luxuries that included a Rolls Royce, five Mercedes and an airplane for personal use.
There was going to be one more turning point in Bahuleyan’s life and it occurred when he visited India. He was stunned to see nothing had changed. The poverty that he faced in his childhood still existed. He knew he had to do something to change this.
In a 2007 interview Kumar had said – “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, 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 this helpless creature 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. That was my epiphany.”
Kumar immediately started taking actions. He built a 200-bed hospital, built septic tank for 3,000 toilets, built roads and houses for poor people. Kumar, along with his wife Dr Indira Kartha, would split half their year between Indian and United States. While in India, he helped poor farmers with agricultural activities, attended poor patients for free and did everything that he could. He donated his entire fortune of $20 million (approximately Rs 130 crore as of now) for charitable works.
Kumar even ensured that his charitable works continue receiving funds by investing in businesses like Kalathil Health Resorts in India, a luxury hotel and spa that cater to India’s rapidly growing middle class. All the profits from the businesses are used for charitable works by his foundation.
“My dream,” Kumar told The Buffalo News, “is to see all this 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.
The gravity of his work increases manifolds when we came to know that his name does not appear anywhere in all the charitable-works done by him. He is doing instrumental work selflessly and silently with a sense of gratification that no wealth could ever get him.
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