A Mumbai family awaits Hu

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SWEET MEMORIES: Manorama Kotnis (left) and Vatsala Kotnis, sisters of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, at their residence in Mumbai.
SWEET MEMORIES: Manorama Kotnis (left) and Vatsala Kotnis, sisters of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, at their residence in Mumbai.

Arunkumar Bhatt

The Chinese President is expected to meet the kin of Doctor Kotnis today

  • Dr. Kotnis died while treating Chinese troops fighting the Japanese Army in China
  • Hu expected to express his country's gratitude for the surgeon's services

    MUMBAI: When Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Mumbai on Thursday, apart from meeting business people, he has a special meeting lined up. He will meet two frail old ladies and a retired colonel of the Indian Army, the sisters and nephew of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis an Indian surgeon who laid down his life in the battlefield in China while treating Chinese troops fighting the occupying Japanese Army.

    Like his predecessors and other Chinese leaders, including Zhou Enlai, Li Peng and Zhu Rongzi, President Hu will meet the Kotnis family and is expected to express his country's gratitude for the surgeon's services.

    Ms. Manorama Kotnis was 16 years old when Dr. Kotnis left India. She is now 84 and lives with her 78-year-old sister, Dr. Vatsala Kotnis, and their nephew, Col. Anil Khot, in a typical middleclass Maharashtrian locality in central Mumbai. Their house is like a museum, full of memorabilia relating to their late brother. The memory of his life and work remains alive for them.

    Appeal for help

    Recalling Dr. Kotnis' decision to go to China, his sisters said that an appeal for help had come from the Chinese during the war. Within weeks the khadi-clad surgeon boarded a ship to reach the Chinese shore.

    "Do not wait for patients to come to you but go to them wherever they are," was his motto, they recalled. He would go out and treat the wounded in the battlefield and operate upon them in caves and jungles, narrates Col. Khot who has read his letters, some written when surrounded by the Japanese.

    The Chinese would never cease to be grateful to the late Dr. Kotnis and would never miss a chance to do something in his memory for his four-year service in China, recalls his family. Besides saving a number of lives in and outside the combat zones, Dr. Kotnis was a source of great moral support and inspiration to the Chinese, they said.

    Kotnis teams

    The Chinese made him director of their premier medical institute, and after his death raised memorials, named the biggest medical institute of the People's Liberation Army after him and issued postal stamps in his honour. Even today, medical teams in China go out into remote villages to serve the people something reminiscent of barefoot doctors and they are called Kotnis teams.

    Among the Chinese rank and file, this Indian donning Chinese uniform was popularly known as `black mother.' The commitment of Dr. Kotnis to the cause of freedom and humanity was total. He had learnt the Chinese language during the passage to China and could comfort the wounded in Chinese from day one.

    Dr. Kotnis married his Chinese colleague, Kuochinglan. They named their son, Ing Hwa. It means India-China. Taking a cue from his parents, the young man had joined a medical college but passed away in 1966 at the age of 25 while doing his housemanship.

    Dr. Kuochinglan, now over 90, lives at Dalian in North China. When Premier Zhou Enlai visited India in 1954, Ms. Manorama Kotnis requested that the mother and son be sent to India for a visit. The Chinese leader arranged for it. They came in 1958 for the first time. After that, Dr. Kuochinglan kept coming here to meet her late husband's siblings and other relatives.

    Both sides love India and China but life is not without its own paradox. Col. Khot fought the Chinese in Sela-Bomdilla sector in Arunachal Pradesh in 1962.

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