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Doctor Returns Home to Invest in Indian Village

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Doctor Returns Home to Invest in Indian Village

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Doctor Returns Home to Invest in Indian Village

Doctor Returns Home to Invest in Indian Village

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Dr. Kumar Bahuleyan, an 81-year-old retired neurosurgeon who lived and worked in Buffalo, N.Y., began life as an untouchable in a poor village in Southern India. In recent years, Bahuleyan has returned to his town to invest his personal fortune in charitable projects there, including a hospital. Bahuleyan talks with Melissa Block.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Eighty-one-year-old Kumar Bahuleyan calls himself an eternal optimist. And he must be. He was born in poverty into the untouchable caste in southern India. But Kumar Bahuleyan managed to go to college, then to medical school. He ended up in Buffalo, New York, a neurosurgeon and a multimillionaire.

Well, today Buffalo News reports on what Dr. Bahuleyan has done with his money. He has spent $20 million on projects back home. He has set up a health clinic, a neurosurgery hospital, a spa resort, and now, a sailing and boat-building school in his native village of Chemmanakary.

Dr. Bahuleyan is there now and when I spoke with him earlier today, he recalled his difficult childhood.

Dr. KUMAR BAHULEYAN (Retired neurosurgeon): There was no sanitation, no fresh water supply, no electricity, no roads, no schools. Absolutely nothing. My own experience, early memory, is that when my siblings, one after another, were sick, we had no way to get them to a medical hospital because of the lack of transportation facilities. In a nutshell, it was a god-forsaken primitive village.

BLOCK: And these were your siblings who ultimately died.

Dr. BAHULEYAN: Correct, three of them.

BLOCK: You were able to get educated, to leave India for medical training. And many years later, you went back to your village. How had it change when you came back? Or had it changed?

Dr. BAHULEYAN: It was heartbreaking to see, even 50 years after India's independence. My village remained the same as I left.

BLOCK: How did you decide to start the project that you did back home in Chemmanakary?

Dr. BAHULEYAN: You are not the first person to ask me this question. Even my own people in the village - why are you doing this? But it is very simple for me that I was born with this kind of sentiment to help others.

BLOCK: I gather from the story today in the Buffalo News that at the beginning, you were not a terribly good businessman and you didn't realize that you would need capital to keep projects going like the women and children's clinic that wasn't going to be making a profit on its own.

Dr. BAHULEYAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's correct. I started the hospital 11 years ago. At the moment, this consultant who came on said, you cannot run a hospital like this. You have to have some kind of a revenue - a profit center. One of the things is to build recreational area where people will give you happily money, with which you can offset the deficits or the loss in the operation of the charitable institution. So that's how I started the luxury resort, and it turned out to be very attractive and I kept a little bit of money, about $3 million. I invested in it.

BLOCK: Dr. Bahuleyan, have you stopped to calculate how much of your own money you've spent on these projects and also how many jobs you've created there?

Dr. BAHULEYAN: We employed directly about 400 people and indirectly maybe 10 times more. I had about $20 million.

BLOCK: $20 million of your own that you've spent?

Dr. BAHULEYAN: Which I earned in Buffalo and western New York. One hundred percent I put into a foundation and spend everything improving the village people.

BLOCK: Dr. Bahuleyan, you're 81 years old now. Do you have an idea for your next project, something you'd really like to get off the ground, in Chemmanakary that you haven't done yet?

Dr. BAHULEYAN: Yes. Chemmanakary is still land lot. The people cannot get out of here, so I'm planning to build a bridge across the river.

BLOCK: Well, Dr. Bahuleyan, thanks very much for talking with us.

Dr. BAHULEYAN: Okay, dear.

BLOCK: Neurosurgeon Dr. Kumar Bahuleyan, who has spent $20 million on projects in his native village of Chemmanakary, India.

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