Hu to reinforce bonds when he meets Kotnis sisters
The Hindustan Times November 22, 2006
It's a tradition followed by every Chinese leader. And Chinese President Hu Jintao, who lands here Wednesday evening, will only be following his predecessors when he meets the family of Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis, the selfless surgeon who made China his home, during his packed two-day visit.
A high point of Hu's Mumbai visit, during which he will meet captains of Indian industry and interact with members of the Indo-Chinese Friendship Association, will be the meeting with the doctor's sisters at his hotel.
While Kotnis is venerated in China, with textbooks recounting his story to children and a Beijing hospital even creating a medical team in his memory, very little is known of him in the land of his birth.
Few in Mumbai or the rest of the country know about the doctor who served in China during the 1938 Sino-Japanese war and died there in 1948, says his septuagenarian younger sister Vatsala.
Echoing Vatsala is Leena Fernandes, the general secretary of the Mumbai charter of the Indo- China Friendship Association: 'Friendly ties between India and China have their own significance, even on a humanitarian level. The selfless service rendered by Dr Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, a proud son of India, during the Sino-Japanese war and to wounded Chinese soldiers is an evergreen symbol of the human relationship between the people of India and China.'
Added Kotnis' elder sister Manorama, sitting in their 60-year apartment crowded with Chinese memorabilia: 'Had it not been for the renowned filmmaker V. Shantaram and the Amar Chitra Katha comic book about him and maybe a few others, Indians would have never known how our brother, who served in Mao Zedong's Red Army, saved lives during the war.'
The lasting Indian tributes to Kotnis are the book 'One Who Never Returned' by film journalist Khwaja Abbas Ahmed and the film it inspired, V. Shantaram's 1946 classic 'Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani'.
It is a fascinating life story that began in Sholapur where he was born on Oct 10, 1910. He then graduated in medicine from Grants Medical College, Mumbai. In 1938, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, who was the president of the Indian National Congress, took the historical step to send a medical mission to China. Kotnis was the youngest of the five-member team of doctors.
'He was the only doctor in the team not to return. He stayed back and married a Chinese girl - Guo Qing Lan - and settled down in China carrying on with his humanitarian work. He died of a heart attack in 1948, leaving behind a young widow and a three-year-old son,' said Vatsala.
'Baba (Kotnis) would write letters regularly on anything and everything. He would relate to us through his letters everything from the enjoyable Chinese opera to the horrors of Japanese air raids and the fatal wounds of the soldiers. But the letters stopped coming in 1940 as the war intensified,' recalled elder sister Manorama.
'Baba married Guo, who served as a nurse in the front with him in 1947, a year before his death. But the prevailing situation then did not allow his young widow and infant son to visit India. It was only 10 years after Baba's death that we could meet them,' she said.
The Kotnis sisters were hoping to meet their sister-in-law, now 91-years-old.
'But unfortunately Guo could not make the trip with the Chinese president due to failing health,' rued the Kotnis sisters.
While the sisters are readying to meet Hu on Thursday, authorities here are also gearing up for the Chinese president and his wife. They are likely to stay in the presidential suite in the heritage wing of the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers near the Gateway of India.