Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis

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Remembering Dr. Kotnis

Mao’s letter

Swatee Kher, Chinese experts restore Mao's letter to Kotnis kin, Jan 10, 2017: The Times of India

Chinese calligraphists Zhu Pinfang and Zhao Li arrived in India for the first time on December 20, 2016 for a mission in Solapur, a small textile city in southern Maharashtra.

Both experts toiled relentlessly for 18 days to restore a 75-year-old condolence message written on December 29, 1942 by chairman Mao Zedong to the family of Dwarkanath Kotnis, who was born in Solapur.

The restored letter will be handed over on Tuesday to Solapur's civic officials at a ceremony at Confucius Institute in Mumbai University .

Kotnis was among the five-member medical team that went to China in 1939 in response to a call seeking medical assistance during the second Sino-Japanese War.He worked tirelessly in China for four years, before he passed away at the young age of 32. Touched by Kotnis's work in China, Mao, a master calligraphist himself, penned a moving tribute and condolence message to his family in So lapur. The 3-foot-long letter was written on traditional rice paper using charcoal black ink. A few years ago, the letter was handed to the Kotnis museum operated by the municipal corporation.

The condolence message had undergone wear and tear over the years and plans to restore it began in 2014 when the then Chinese consul general in Mumbai heard about this gem.“The chief of relics from China visited Solapur and discussed ways to restore the letter.

It was decided to send two experts from China,“ Guo Taojie, chief of political section, consulate general of the People's Republic of China in Mumbai, said.

The consulate got in touch with Zhu from Shanghai museum and Zhao from Gansu museum in August 2016 and requested them to travel to Solapur. When the duo saw the frayed letter with its fading ink and moth-damaged fragile paper, they knew they had a huge task on hand.They combined their collective experience of nearly 80 years, used specialised tools from China, followed traditional and new scientific methods to restore the letter.

“We brought all the tools, restoration material and ink from China. We had to peel the three layers that make the rice paper and fix the wear and tear one small step at a time,“ Zhu said. She has worked in China and other countries to restore Chinese calligraphy works for more than40 years.

“This is out first time to India and we did not know what to expect. The food here is nowhere close to our's. Instant noodles were the closest,“ Zhu said. Li added that working conditions in Solapur were not as good as in China, but the people were extremely helpful.“They went out of their way to ensure that we got all that we needed.“

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