Google Doodle Marks Indian Swimmer Arati Saha’s 80th Birthday

Arati Saha Google Doodle

Thursday’s Google Doodle honored Arati Saha, on what would’ve been the Indian Channel swimmer’s 80th birthday.

Saha was a trailblazer in the pool, born in Kolkata in 1940. She learned to swim under the guidance of Indian Olympian Sachin Nag, winning medals in national competition against adults at age eight and setting national records by the age of 10. Saha represented a newly free India at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki just before her 12th birthday, swimming the 200-meter breaststroke.

She grew into an open-water swimmer, training and competing in the Ganges River. Her first attempt at the English Channel came in August 1959, with Saha making it more than 40 miles before the currents turned her back. On Sept. 29, 1959, having just turned 19, the completed the 42 miles from Cape Gris Nez, France, to Sandgate, England, in 16 hours and 20 minutes, becoming the first Asian woman to cross the Channel. Raising the Indian flag on mainland Britain was a particularly profound achievement given the two nations’ former colonial attachment.

In 1960, she became the first female athlete to earn the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award in India. She was memorialized with a postage stamp in India in 1999. Saha died after a brief illness in 1994.

The Google Doodle was created by fellow Kolkata native Lavanya Naidu.

“Having been born and raised in the city of Kolkata, for me, Arati Saha was a known household name growing up,” Naidu said in a Google Q&A. “My brother and I used to be avid stamp collectors as kids and I remember our excitement when her stamp was issued in the 90s! Having the opportunity to now celebrate her achievements with this Doodle is truly an honor!”