24 September: Remembering Aarti Saha on her Birth Anniversary
Aarti Saha (24 September 1940 – 23 August 1994) was a famous Indian swimmer. She was the first woman swimmer from India and Asia to swim across the English Channel.
She was born on 24 September 1940, in Kolkata, India. Her dad was in the military. She lost her mom when she was two and a half. She was raised by her grandmother in North Kolkata. At the age of four, she learned to swim at Champatala Ghat bath with her uncle. When Panchugopal Saha noticed his daughter was interested in swimming, he enrolled her in Hatkhola Swimming Club. In 1946, she won the gold medal in 110 yards freestyle in the Shailendra Memorial Swimming Competition.
She started her career by winning 22 state competitions. She mainly did freestyle and breaststroke. In 1948, she won a silver medal in the national championship. In addition, she set a lot of records. She got to represent India at the 1952 summer Olympics along with Dolly Nazir. She competed in 200 meters of breaststroke at the Olympics. Brojen gives inspiration in her field. Brojen Das also recommended her name to the Butlin International Cross Channel Swimming Race because he was impressed with her talent.
Some of her well-wishers raised funds for her trip, like Mihir Sen, Dr. Arun Gupta, and Gour Mukherjee. Unfortunately, the fund raised wasn’t that much. Jawahar Lal Nehru also encouraged her talent and helped her. She started training after the issue was resolved. A total of 58 people took part in the competition, including five women. On 27 August 1959, at 1 am local time, the race was scheduled from Cape Gris Nez, France to Sandgate, England. The pilot boat of Arati Saha didn’t arrive on time. As of 11 am, she had swum more than 40 miles and was just 5 miles from the coast of England. She was facing a current from the opposite direction at that point. By 4 pm, she could only swim two miles more before she had to stop.
She prepared herself for a second try. She made her second attempt on 29 September 1959. In 16 hours and 20 minutes, she swam 42 miles from Cape Gris Nez, France, to Sandgate, England. She hoisted the Indian flag when she reached England’s coast. Vijaylakshmi Pandit was the first to congratulate her. Many eminent people congratulated her, including Jawahar Lal Nehru. All India Radio announced Arati Saha’s achievement on 30 September.
In 1960, she was awarded the Padma Shri. She was the first Indian woman sportsperson to receive the award.
She died on 23 August 1994, in West Bengal, India.