Arati Saha - Indian long-distance swimmer remembered on her 80th



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On 24th of September when I turned on my laptop I had no idea I was going to be made aware of an impressive woman. Google does an astounding job when it comes to their doodles, right? Innovative, fresh and informative.

From honoring COVID warriors, marking special days and exceptional humans, these doodles aren't necessarily universal worldwide.

On Thursday, google commemorated Arati Saha's 80th birthday with a doodle. It is designed by Kolkata-based artist Lavanya Naidu, who hopes to inspire people to dream big wherever they're from. The doodle depicts Saha swimming as a homage to her journey across the English Channel.

Why Saha?

  • At the age of 19, on 29 September 1959 - She was the first Asian women to swim across the English channel , a whopping 42 miles from Cape Gris Nez, France, to reach Sandgate, England. She swam for 16hrs 20 mins and hoisted the Indian flag on the England coast .

This was in fact her second attempt. The first attempt did not go according to plan, but she did not give up. We could learn a thing or two from this itself.

  • She was the first Indian woman sportsperson awarded Padma Shri in 1960.
  • In 1999, the Department of Posts celebrated her conquest by bringing out a postage stamp of ₹3 denomination.
  • In 1996, a bust of Arati Saha was also erected near her residence. The 100-metre long lane in front of the bust was renamed after her.

Early life 

Born in Kolkata, India, Arati had been introduced to swimming at the early age of four. She learned to swim on the banks of the Hooghly river. Saha won her first gold medal at age 5. By 11, she had broken several swimming records.  She later trained under Sachin Nag, one of India’s best competitive swimmers. She also represented India with her contemporary Dolly Nazir in the summer Olympics of 1952.

Between 1946 and 1951, Arati participated in several state-level swimming competitions and won around 22 medals for her home state Kolkata.  In 1951,  Arati went on to break  Dolly Nazir’s all-India record by creating one in 100m breaststroke. The same year, she also set a new state-level record in 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle and 100m backstroke.

Operation English channel

The English Channel is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates Southern England from northern France. It is also known as the “Mount Everest of Swimming” because of length of the crossing, cold temperatures and the dangers of the journey.

Saha got inspired by Brojen Das and Mihir Sen’s accomplishments to try for the Channel. She started training for it vigorously

Her first attempt at crossing the channel failed. Her pilot boat didn’t arrive on time, thus, she had to start the race 40 minutes later than the other participants. By 11 AM, she had swum more than 40 miles and came within 5 miles of the England coast. At that point she faced a strong current from the opposite direction. As a result, by 4 pm, she could only swim about two more miles. But later, she had to quit because of the pressure.

Being undeterred, she decided to go for a second attempt. She practiced and One month later she did it. It makes you believe in second chances, Life goes on as long as you have the heart to keep trying.

Her achievement was applauded by the entire nation including Jawaharlal Nehru, and many more. On 30 September, the All India Radio announced the achievement of Arati Saha.

In a male-dominated society,  Her story is one of inspiration for many young girls. Celebrating strong women? yes please. Now more than ever, Its crucial to remember the remarkable achievements made by these women in those days. To signify that nothing is impossible if you want it enough. No dream is too big. Hard work, determination, resilience are all the tools you need.

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