The Solapur doctor revered in China
After V Shantaram's 1946 film celebrated the life of Dr Dwarkadas Kotnis, yet another is in the making, this time in the country where he saved the lives of soldiers and became a symbol of Sino-Indian friendship
From the 1930s to the '40s, when India was struggling for Independence, China was facing invasion from the Japanese. Around this time, General Zhu De wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru, requesting for physicians to save the lives of Chinese soldiers.
Born in a middle-class Maharashtrian family from Solapur, Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis, 28, had graduated from the Seth GS Medical College in Mumbai. After an appeal was made in the press by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who was the president of the Indian National Congress, Dr Kotnis sought permission from his family to volunteer. In September 1938, the Indian Medical Mission Team, including Dr M Atal from Allahabad, Dr M Cholkar from Nagpur, Dr BK Basu and Dr Debesh Mukherjee from Calcutta, and Dr Kotnis, was dispatched to China. His decision to brave the war-torn country proved to be a life-changing one. In 1946, it inspired the movie, Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, directed by V Shantaram. Seven decades later, has inspired another one.
The Indian Medical Mission Team dispatched to China including (extreme right) Dr Kotnis
Rajendra Jadhav, a researcher at the Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis Research Bureau in Fort, is a treasure trove of information on the medical practitioner. "Five years after Dr Kotnis died in China, his colleague Dr Basu returned to India. He set up a memorial committee in Kolkata to spread the word on the marvels of his work. He [Dr Kotnis] dedicated his career to serve mankind in a different country. It was and still is important to remember him," says Jadhav, 51.
While the other Indian doctors returned to India, Dr Kotnis continued to serve the wounded in China. In 1940, he met a Chinese nurse, Guo Qinglan, at the Bethune Hospital. They married a year later and had a son, Yinhua, in August 1942. However, epileptic seizures led to Dr Kotnis's death in December 1942, leaving behind his widow and son.
Following Dr Basu's suit, more memorial committees sprung up in several parts of India. Despite finding a mention in textbooks and being immortalised in the 1946 film, Dr Kotnis appeared as a lesser-known figure. In China, however, he is revered as hero; stamps bearing his picture were printed and he has a memorial to his name in Hebei province. But things began to change in the home country around 2010. Manorama and Vatsala, two of his five sisters, approached Jadhav. "Starting 2010, I along with my team, researched his life. After four-and-a-half years, we published a pictorial book titled, Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis," Jadhav says. The team, in 2011, received a call from an Indian doctor based in Mauritius. This would change the course of their research. "He had Dr Kotnis's career card, which stated that he was an alumnus of Mumbai's Grant Medical College. It was an interesting find; we hadn't thought we could find anything substantial on him anymore."
The bureau published a pictorial book which mentions a diary written by Dr Kotnis that was found in Nasik
On January 9 this year, Jadhav and team celebrated the 10th anniversary of the committee's Mumbai bureau. Tang Guocai, Consul General of China in Mumbai, was invited as chief guest. Another significant member to grace the occasion was Sumangala Borkar, Dr Kotnis's niece. "I have grown up listening to stories about him. Taking a cue from him, I became a family physician. We even named our Vile Parle clinic after him," says the 67-year-old. Her father Mangesh, Dr Kotnis's brother, wrote the book, The Bridge Forever: A Biography of Dr Kotnis, in 1982.
Remembering the bond the eight siblings—three brothers and five sisters—shared, Borkar adds, "In honour of Dr Kotnis's birth centenary in 2015, a programme was held in Vengurla of Sindhudurg district. His youngest sister, Vatsala, was called on stage." Vatsala ended her speech, saying, 'A selfless doctor like my late brother should be born in every home in Konkan'.
"There was applause, and I think she was very emotionally overwhelmed. She sank into a chair and breathed her last," Borkar shares.
Rajendra Jadhav is researcher at the Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis Research Bureau in Fort. Pic/ Ashish Raje
Now, a movie inspired by Mangesh's book is in the making in China. "If all goes well, it will release in both countries. The goal is to remind everyone of the Sino-Indian friendship built by Dr Kotnis," Jadhav says.
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