Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Doctor Who Did Nehru Proud In China


Sometime in 1945 ,well-known film producer and director Sri .V.Shantaram from Prabhath Studios, Poona hit the headlines of

Indian film industry by producing a magnificient cinema in Hindi by name 'Doctor Kotnis Ki Ama Kahani'. This picture depicted the true life

story of an young doctor from Sholapur by name Dr.Shantaram Kotnis who died in China fighting the China-Japanese war.

In December 2009, one year before the centenary birthday celebration of Dr.Dwarakanath Kotnis, Dr.Kotnis will be honoured by the

Chinese Government as one of the most inflential foreigners who positively shaped the history of Modern China . He was chosen

through an on-line poll in which 50 million Chinese cast their votes.

Recall the inspiring life story of Dr.Dwarakanath Kotnis in the attached article.

B.M.N.Murthy, Saturday 12th Dec 200


“The terror was not that of battle, of shells and tanks and of guns and grenades. It was not even terror of bombs from the air-----It was not the terror of death, of combat, of the clang of metal against metal. Men had killed men in battles since civilization began----.But not until now, since God created man, had human eyes seen laughing soldiers throw a baby into the air, catch it expertly on the point of a sharp bayonet and call it sport----No, the terror was that of man, what men of one race could do to fellow men of another race”—
These poignant lines from the pen of the famous Chinese writer Lin Yutang in his novel ‘A Leaf in the Storm’, dealing with the war-swept China when Japan barbarically attacked China in 1937, sum up the situation in China during this war. With a poor medical contingent unable to cope with the magnitude of the disaster on the battlefront,
The Communist Party of China requested Jawaharlal Nehru, the undisputed leader of the Indian National Congress, to send some doctors from India to China to take care of the wounded soldiers in the war. The request was acceded to.

When Pandit Nehru made a moving appeal to the nation for enlistment of doctor
Volunteers to be sent to China, there was appreciable response from all over the country. A committee of the most eminent medical practitioners including Dr. Jivraj Mehta and Dr. B.C.Roy interviewed dozens of candidates who had volunteered to go on the mission. Finally four doctors were selected taking into consideration their ability, experience and health, besides Dr. Atal who was to lead the Delegation. The oldest of them was a veteran nearly 60 years and the youngest being 25 years old. The following doctors constituted the Mission:
1. Dr. Atal, Leader of the Mission.
2. Dr .M. Cholkar, Deputy Leader
3. Dr. Dwarakanath Kotnis
4. Dr. D.Mukerji and
5. Dr. B.K.Basu

Of these five, Dr. Cholkar was the oldest [60 years]. He was a Gandhian and a leading doctor from Nagpur. Dr. Mukerji was from Calcutta and Dr. Dwarakanath Kotnis hailed from Sholapur and had just then graduated from the Grant Medical College, Bombay. Dr.B.K.Basu, hailing from Dacca, was an active Leftist. All these three doctors were unmarried and adventurous sportsmen within their thirties. The five doctors were given a warm send off at Bombay under the leadership of Mrs. Sarojini Naidu. On 1st September 1938 the Mission sailed from Ballard Pier, Bombay by the P&O Liner S.S. Rajputana. Thousands of citizens came to cheer the Mission and see them off. Dr. Kotnis could count the largest number of friends and relatives, including his aged father and mother. Both of them blessed their gallant son, as he touched their feet before walking up the gangway. It was indeed a touching farewell. At midnight the ship sailed with the Mission—Five warriors without weapons—on board. With them they carried
one ambulance truck, one ambulance car, 60 cases of medicines and surgical instruments, one portable X-Ray apparatus and good wishes and blessings of the entire nation.

Passing through Hong Kong, the Mission reached Canton in China on 17th September 1938 to a rousing reception by the Chinese. Canton, once a flourishing center of trade and commerce and the leading city of South China, turned out to be a battle-charred city. Several buildings had been razed to the ground by the Japanese bombers.
Many schools, hospitals, residential houses were in ruins expressing the hostilities of the war. Without any adequate defense against the Japanese bombers and raiders, the local residents had built bamboo roofs over their terraces to break the fall of crushing bombs.
There had been so many air raids in Canton and so frequent were they that the siren served no purpose. Into such a valley of death and destruction, rode the five valiant Indian doctors donning on their military uniforms.

They spent seven days in the Military Hospital of Canton attending to the wounded soldiers. The sight of the few Chinese military doctors feverishly working day and night to cope with the hundreds of wounded men, women and children lying in the wards, in the verandas and even in the open courtyards, gave the Indian doctors some idea about the desperate urgency with which China needed doctors and medical supplies. It is learnt that there was only one doctor for every 2,000 soldiers on an average. From Canton, the Mission went to the city of Chung Yen, about 400 miles away, accompanied by a few Chinese doctors. The sight at Chung Yen brought them face to face with the hideous, horrifying realities of war. In all their collective experience, this was the first time the Medical Mission saw ghastly sights—hands and legs amputated, faces blown off by bullets, pieces of shrapnel in lungs and abdomen—nor had they witnessed the amazing capacity for silent suffering.

Within three months of their having reached China and getting their minds attuned to the larger tragedy there, tragic news came from India through a letter to Dwarakanath Kotnis that his father, Shantaram Kotnis, expired at Sholapur—a father who had come to Ballard Pier at Bombay along with his wife just three months earlier to bid a touching farewell to his son. Shantaram was a clerk in a textile mill at Sholapur and was getting a poor salary. He had sent his son Dwarakanath to Bombay to study medicine and incurred heavy debt in educating his son, without the son being aware of it. Shantaram was hoping that after obtaining a medical degree, his son would set up a private practice in Sholapur and that would enable him to repay the loan. After the departure of his son to China, the financial condition of the family worsened. Unable to bear the strain of poverty, the old man committed suicide. It was a tragic story of classical poignancy. On receipt of the tragic news, all the colleagues of Dwarakanath urged him to go to Sholapur and console his elderly mother and others in the family. Shantaram refused to go to India on the plea that the call of duty was far more important to him than a personal tragedy.

A few months later, sometime in May 1939 when the team was working in Yenan, Dr.Cholkar left or India as his constitution could not bear the extreme cold weather. Two months later, Dr. Mukerji developed acute kidney trouble and returned to India. Dr.Basu continued to work in Yenan while Dwarakanath shifted to work and organize the Bethune Memorial Base Hospital and Medical School.

By the time Dwarakanath took charge of the Base Hospital, he could speak Chinese fluently and had developed a wonderful rapport with all the Chinese doctors, nurses and other medical staff in the hospital. He was progressively getting attached to the country of his adoption, China. While working in the hospital, Dwarakanath fell in love with a Chinese girl by name Guo Qinglan-- a small, attractive, jolly girl about five feet tall and a round face. She was a teacher of nursing in the Medical School. She hailed from a well-to-do family from Peiping and had received her education in the Union Medical College and could speak English fluently. After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, she had been separated from her family and after trekking hundreds of miles to escape the Japanese invaders, she had joined the Eighth Route Army and posted to the Medical School of which Dwarakanath was the Principal. On 25th November 1941 both Dwarakanath and Guo got married. In July 1942, the couple got a male child.

The strain of work in the hospital round the clock was telling on the health of Dr.Kotnis. In the meanwhile, he developed epilepsy. For more than a year he was suffering from fits of epilepsy. And yet, sensitive and brave he was, he never let anyone know about it, not even his wife. Being a doctor himself, he could feel the fits coming in advance and quietly he would go out in the hills while it lasted so that no one could notice it and worry on this account. The lack of rest and nourishing food, constant strain of overwork, absence of proper medical care—all these conspired to deliver a fatal blow to the young doctor. On 9 th December 1942, Dr. Dwarakanath Kotnis at the young age of 32, died [when his son was just four months baby]. Death came to him, as he lay in a mud hut in an obscure corner of North China. He took with him his long cherished desire to return to his mother and motherland and to serve India, as he had served China.

For two and a half years after he left India, Dr. Kotnis used to write to the family frequently and the last letter received was dated 11th March 1940. Afterwards; for nearly a year and a half, there was no news from him, despite the best efforts of the family to contact him. It was only in January 1943 that the family received an official letter from China informing them that Dr.Kotnis had died in China, caring for the wounded Chinese.
His widow Guo remarried a Chinese in 1944 and had two children from him, However,
Guo’s attachment to India was so strong that she visited Sholapur and Bombay, along with her first son in August 1950. Guo, now 96[in 2009] is in not in the best of health and is in a hospital in China. Dr.Kotnis’s two younger sisters from Poona, Manorama [88] and Vatsala [82] with whom Guo has maintained cordial family relations for over seven decades, have just gone to Beijing on ‘a special visit’ to China to be present on the occasion when their brother is being honoured by the Government of China as one of the ten most influential foreigners who have positively shaped the history of Modern China. They were chosen through an online poll in 2009, with more than 50 million Chinese casting their votes. The three sisters-in-law are eagerly awaiting their re-union.

China had also honoured its beloved guest Dr.Kotnis by erecting a statue for him in 1982. It is learnt that Dr.Kotnis is the only Indian to receive such a high honor from China, with the exception of Lord Buddha whose statue was erected in China more than 2,000 years ago.
B.M.N.Murthy, 12th December 2009

Created: Friday, December 11, 2009 8:22 PM

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