THE STORY OF Chotoo Khoosal

Chotoo Khoosal

UK-based broadcaster Kash Kumar Solanki and his son Emile, who have been trying to locate the survivors of the 1942 tragedy, have been contacted by the son of the third survivor, Chotoo Khoosal (98).

“Khoosal lived in South Africa and Canada for many years before deciding to settle in Gujarat’s Bardoli. The sad part is we were not aware of this when we held a commemorative event in Mumbai on November 23. We are in touch with his son and are getting details,” Emile told HT on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the British government has acknowledged the tragedy, with prime minister Rishi Sunak’s office sending a letter to Emile.

“The loss of SS Tilawa in 1942 is desperately sad. Eight decades on, the impact is still being felt by the families of those who died, including yours. It is commendable that you hosted an event in Mumbai to mark the 80th anniversary of the incident, which was attended by His Majesty’s trade commissioner for South Asia and Deputy High Commissioner for Western India, Alan Gimmel, OBE. It was particularly poignant for the commissioner to be able to meet Arvind Jaani, one of the two known survivors. I hope that the commissioner’s commitment to lay a wreath each year on Remembrance Sunday, in memory of those who lost their lives, will bring some comfort to families like yours,” the letter sent on December 16 said.

SS Tilawa, a 10,000-tonne steamer, set sail from Ballard Pier for Durban in South Africa on November 20, 1942. Two days later, it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, killing 280 Indians on board. On November 23, a commemorative event to mark 80 years of the incident was held in Ballard Estate, with one of the survivors, Arvindbhai Jani, and the kin of other survivors in attendance. A video message from the second survivor, Tejprakash Kaur, who is living in the US, was played at the programme.

Emile’s great grandfather Nichchabhai Solanki was on the ship and lost his life.

About Sunak’s letter, Emile said it was significant to get such an acknowledgement from a British PM of Indian descent.

“We are facing challenges in accessing the archives and having UK maritime museums dedicate an area to SS Tilawa, HMS Birmingham and SS Carthage. We are also reaching out to the Japanese government for their assistance. In this backdrop, a letter from 10 Downing Street offers some hope,” he said.

HMS Birmingham and SS Carthage rescued the survivors and brought them back to Mumbai after the tragedy.

On December 5, the Solanki duo met actor Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of Kaun Banega Crorepati and presented him with a memorial plaque.