A "true friend" of the Chinese people, Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis is also remembered as a "freedom fighter" in China — this is how Chinese Premier Li Keqiang described the doctor when he met his family members here on Tuesday.
Dr Kotnis was part of a five-member Indian medical mission that was sent to China during the Japanese invasion in the late 1930s.
"It was a proud moment for us and a great experience. He enquired about my health like a family member," said 92-year-old Manorama, Dr Kotnis's sister and the only survivor among three brothers and five sisters.
Five members of the family met the Chinese Premier at a south Mumbai hotel. They included Manorama, Dr Sanika Jain (granddaughter of Dr Kotnis's elder brother), Dr Abhay Jain (Sanika's husband), Dr Shalmali Borkar (Sanika's younger sister) and Dr Kishore Khot (grandson of Dr Kotnis's younger sister). Keqiang presented the family with several souvenirs and gifts, including two Chinese panda soft-toys for Khot's son and a music player for Manorama.
"He spoke with us for over half-an-hour about my grandfather and his devotion towards China. He said that Dr Kotnis is a true symbol of India-China friendship and being an Indian, what he did for the people of China was more than a Chinese could probably do. The Premier said that Dr Kotnis helped the Chinese at a time when they were in distress and crisis, establishing the fact that he is a true friend. It was most touching that the Premier said he is remembered as China's freedom fighter," said Sanika.
"He said that everyone in China knows him as there is a chapter on Dr Kotnis's life in the school curriculum. Hearing such words from the Premier in person about our grandfather was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an absolute honour," said Jain.
The Premier has invited the family to visit China.
"I told him that the younger generation has been listening to stories about various memorials and hospitals set up in his honour, but has never had the opportunity to visit China and see it for themselves. The Premier said that whenever they wished to go, they would be his guest," said Manorama.
Selected pictures which the Premier had brought with him included Dr Kotnis performing surgery on a wounded soldier and one with Mao Tse-Tung. "He sat beside my grandmother (Manorama) and thanked us for Dr Kotnis's contribution in those trying times," said Shalmali.
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