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Arati Saha’s 80th Birth Anniversary: Google Honours The First Asian Woman To Cross English Channel

This Thursday, Google changed its doodle to honour Arati Saha, the first Asian woman to cross the English Channel on her 80th birth anniversary. It was on 29 September 1959, when Arati Saha crossed the English Channel in 16 hours and 20 minutes. She covered a distance of 67.5 km within that time period. Many of you may not have heard about her and therefore, today we are going to tell you more about her.

1. Arati Saha was born on 24 September 1940 in Kolkata to Panchugopal Saha and his wife. Arati was the second of the three children to the couple. She had a younger sister and an elder brother.

2. While she was barely four years old, her mother died. She was raised by her grandmother while her siblings were raised by her maternal family.

3. During her childhood days, she used to accompany her uncle to Champatala Ghat where her uncle used to bathe. This is when she gained basic skills in swimming.

4. When her father came to know about his daughter's interest in swimming, he admitted her to the Hatkhola Swimming Club.

5. In 1946, when she was just five years old when she won a gold medal in the 110 yards freestyle swimming in the Shailendra Memorial Swimming Competition.

6. From 1946 to 1955, she participated in numerous swimming competitions and won state-level awards for the same.

7. In 1948, she participated in the National Championship held at Mumbai and silver medal for 100 meters freestyle and 200-meter breaststroke.

8. She became the youngest Indian to participate in the 1952 summer Olympics along with her compatriot Dolly Nazir. There she participated in the 200 meters breaststroke.

9. She often participated in the long-distance swimming competition in the Ganges and used to practice the same more often.

10. It was in 1958, when Brojen Das, a renowned swimmer from Bangladesh became the first Asian to swim across the English Channel. Arati was quite inspired by Brojen Das and decided to participate in the same.

11. Arati sent a congratulatory message to Brojen Das to which he replied that Arati too should go for it. He then proposed the name of Arati Saha at the Butlin International Cross Channel Swimming Race for next year's competition.

12. After receiving the reply of Brojen Das, she started practicing sincerely for the upcoming competition. She received encouragement and assistance from Mihir Sen, a renowned swimmer from West Bengal and Dr. Arun Gupta, the assistant executive secretary of the Hatkhola Swimming Club. The latter took the responsibility of raising funds for Arati's participation.

13. People like Jamininath Das, Gour Mukherjee and Parimal Saha gave their support in organising Arati's trip for the competition. Still, the funds fell short and therefore, her sympathisers reached out to Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal and a great doctor. Dr. Roy assisted the help of 11,000 INR.

14. Arati then started practicing for long hours. On 13 April 1959, she swam continuously for eight hours in the presence of thousands of spectators and renowned swimmers from all over the country.

15. On 24 July 1959, she left for England with Dr. Arun Gupta who was also her manager and mentor. Upon reaching England, she started practicing extensively for the competition.

16. The race was scheduled for 27 August 1959 at 1:00 am (local time) from Cape Gris Nez. Due to some unfavorable conditions, Arati started late by 40 minutes and had to face strong waves in the water. By 4 pm, she had to quit the race under pressure from her pilot.

17. She opted for a second chance and then on 29 September 1959, she once again swam from Cape Gris Nez and became the first Asian woman to cross the English Channel.

18. She received congratulatory messages from all over the world and especially from Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India.

19. In 1959, she married Dr. Arun Gupta, her manager. The marriage was held under the supervision of Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. The duo first opted for a court marriage and then had a social marriage.

20. The couple was blessed with a daughter named Archana.

21. In 1960, she was honoured with the Padma Shri.

22. It was on 4 August 1994, when she was admitted to a hospital after suffering from jaundice and encephalitis. After struggling for 19 days, she finally died on 23 August 1994.

Story first published: Thursday, September 24, 2020, 13:30 [IST]