The English Channel that separates southern England from Northern France is often compared to Mount Everest because to cross the English Channel is as hard as scaling the Mount Everest. And 60 years ago, when people dreaded seeing women in any other attire than Saree, Mrs. Arati Saha achieved the impossible. In the year of 1959, she became the first Indian woman to cross the English Channel in 16 hours and 20 minutes. Not only just in India, but Arati Saha was also the first Asian woman to achieve such big title. Let us hear out her story in here.
Early Life of Arati Saha
Bron on 24th September 1940, Arati Saha came from a Bengali Hindu family of Kolkata. She was the second daughter of Panchugopal Saha. At the age of only two, she lost her mother. As her father was an employee of the Indian Armed Forces, she was raised by her grandmother in the midst of Old North Kolkata.
She first took an interest in swimming when she was only four. She often accompanied her uncle to the Champatala Ghat for bath, and she started learning swimming since then. After noticing Arati’s keen interest in swimming, her father admitted her daughter to the Hatkhola Swimming Club. And 1 year later in 1946, she won a gold medal for 110 yards freestyle in a competition. And her swimming career began!
The Life of the Champion Arati Saha
Since 1946, Arati Saha started her journey of being a swimmer, and she never looked back. Between 1946 and 1956, she participated in different competitions that involved national and State competitions as well. And she won more than 22 State-level competitions. In 1948, she participated in the national championship held in Mumbai. She won silver in 100 meters freestyle and bronze in 200 meters freestyle. In 1949, she achieved an all-India record in Swimming.
Not only National and State level competitions, but she also represented India at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics as well. She might not win the Olympics, but surely won many of the Indian hearts.
The Journey Towards Crossing the English Channel
Her inspiration of crossing the English Channel came from the long distance swimming competitions in the Ganges. She was also inspired from Brojen Das, the first Indian man to cross the English Channel. And after hearing his story, Arati Saha finally started thinking of getting into the event when she was only 19 years old. Along with Brojen Das, Mihir Sen also encouraged Arati to take part in the event. Sen along with Arun Gupta started arranging a fund-raising event for Arati, and soon they had the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, standing beside them. Their supports finally helped Arati Saha to go to England on 24th July 1959.
Total 58 participants including 5 women from 23 countries took part in the competition. The race started on 1 am on 27th August 1959. But due to some faults, she started the race late and lost the favorable weather. In the midway of her swimming, she faced strong current from the opposite direction, so she had to quit. But she did not give up. She prepared for the second attempt. Again on 29th September 1959, she again battled for the competition. She swam for 16 hours and 20 minutes and hoisted the Indian flag after covering 42 miles to reach Sandgate.
Later, she got married to Arun Gupta, her coach from the Hatkhola Swimming Club and they had a daughter together. In 1994, Arati Saha died due to acute jaundice at the age of 54. She was awarded Padma Shri in 1960 for her unforgettable achievement. Arati Saha is not only an inspiration, but she also taught a very important lesson of never giving up on life. May her soul rest in peace!
Written By: Subharthi Bhattacharya