President Hu Jintao and his wife Liu Yongqing, in Mumbai on a daylong visit, met nine relatives of Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis on Wednesday morning at the Taj Hotel.
In the closed-door meeting, aided by translators but marked by easy warmth, Hu told the Kotnis family that the Chinese government was planning to hold a special celebration in 2008 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the doctor’s arrival in China in September1938.
Kotnis left Mumbai as a 28-year-old surgeon to serve as a doctor with the Communist Party’s Red Army fighting a brutal Japanese invasion (1937-45).
Part of a 5-member Indian Medical Mission sent by Jawaharlal Nehru for a year, Kotnis was the only doctor to never return home, instead choosing a harsh life of service on the warfront in North China with a Red Army unit of Mao Zedong, and tragically succumbing to epilepsy in 1942.
"Dr Kotnis took the brave decision to join the Chinese people in their most difficult times, helping them to fight against national aggression. The 1.3 billion Chinese people will always be grateful to you for that,” Hu told the Kotnis family.
At the end of the half-an-hour-long meeting, attended by HT, Hu presented the Kotnis family with a large bound photo album, he and his wife going through and discussing several of its images with them.
The album documents Kotnis’ life in China, treating soldiers, teaching cadre in the Bethune International Hospital, and his meetings with Mao. The album also contained images of Guo Qinglan, the young nurse Kotnis fell in love with and married in the middle of the war in 1941, and their son Yinhua (literally India-China).
“Dr Kotnis was the gem of our family,” Dr Kotnis’s sister Manorama (85), who last saw her elder brother when she was 16, told Hu. “Losing him was painful. But our family is grateful that the Chinese government still remembers and honours his contribution.”
The Chinese have honoured Kotnis in a Martyrs Memorial as well as a 1982 film, and every Chinese head of state who visits Mumbai, keeps their date with the Kotnis family.
Manorama requested Hu to ensure that the Chinese government takes care of her sister-in-law Guo, currently 91 and living in northeast China. “We certainly will,” Hu assured her, "and the government will also ensure your family can meet her when you next come to China.”