End-to-end course | Tendency
Died August 23, 1994
For thousands of years, the English Channel has played an important role in the history of the world. This small extension of the Atlantic Ocean which separates English and French soil determined the course of profoundly significant events – British colonization, Hitler’s defeat and the development of maritime trade.
On September 29, 1959, a momentous event took place in the English Channel. Like a hero plunging into dangerous waters, Arati Saha crossed this vast canal, becoming the first Indian woman to do so.
An exceptional swimmer, Arati was almost one with the flexible yet fierce element of water. Born September 24, 1940, she began taking swimming lessons at the age of four, a time when children had tantrums when forced to take a bath.
Saha lost her mother at the age of two and was brought up in her maternal home. It was her uncle who first took her to the Champatala Ghat bath and observed how she swam in the water with great ease. Seeing his potential, he enrolled Arati in the Hatkhola Swimming Club.
In the pool, she found herself and the goal of her life. It’s nothing short of astonishing that she got her first medal when she was only five years old!
Arati trained with all her might and honed her skills in the waters, eventually becoming the best at her game. After winning 22 medals at the West Bengal State Championships, she even set an all-time record. India in 1950. When new milestones were taken in the country, Saha now turned to international competition.
Her first major appearance outside India was at the 1952 Olympic Games. An athlete representing the country at the age of 12, she was one of four female members of the Indian contingent.
Sadly, she couldn’t replicate her national success at the world level, but those losses weren’t enough to separate her from her one true love, swimming.
His moment of glory was yet to come.
In 1958, the Butlin Cross Channel international swimming race was organized. Among the successful participants were Borjen Das and Greta Anderson. Das became the first person from the subcontinent to cross the English Channel, and Anderson was a swimmer who achieved this feat in just 11 hours. Arati saw himself in these people. Their success stung something to her, and she immediately wrote to Brojen.
He passed his name on to the organizers of the upcoming year’s competition, and Saha had the chance to make history. Although she had previous experience in long distance swimming, it was a huge challenge. The training felt like she was moving mountains, but she was ready to do anything to make her dreams come true. The first big obstacle on the way to Aart was the lack of funds. Even after organizing fundraisers, she could not get enough money to participate in the contest, and it was only after pulling the political strings that the necessary funds could be raised. In fact, West Bengal Chief Minister Bipin Chandara Roy and Nehru gave her great motivation.
The race finally started on August 27, 1959. Arati was standing at the start line but could not continue because his pilot boat was late. This delayed departure cost him dearly because the water currents were turning in the wrong direction.
Despite her best efforts, she failed due to the delicate circumstances.
But Arati was a fighter, she hadn’t come this far to go home without giving the best of herself. Recovering herself, she made her second attempt on September 29, 1959.
The waters were rough and difficult to navigate, but she didn’t stop. After swimming for 16 hours and 20 minutes, Arati Saha became the first Indian woman to cross the Channel.
As soon as she reached the shore, she hoisted the tricolor and was greeted by Vijaylakshmi Pandit. On that day, Saha became an icon and his name was engraved in golden words. It was she who made the whole country proud.
For making history and performing well in swimming, Arati was awarded the Padma Shri in 1960, becoming the first Indian athlete to receive this honor.
She passed away on August 23, 1994 and whether it’s a Google Doodle or a stamp, her legacy is celebrated in multiple ways. Arati Saha was a revolutionary figure who taught the world how important it is to persevere.
This story first appeared on ThisDay.app.