Arati was born into a middle-class Bengali family in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in British India On September 24, 1940. Her father, Panchugopal Sahu, was employed in the armed forces. Aarti was middle-born of three siblings, she lost her mother when she was 2 years old and was raised by her grandmother.
Arati loved swimming even as a child. She was acommpined by her father and uncle to the city’s Champatala Ghat for a bath, and this is where she got her initial lessons in swimming. Arati’s father admitted her to the Hatkhola Swimming Club where she caught the attention of Sachin Nag, India’s first Asian Games gold medallist.
At the time, Nag was India’s foremost swimming powerhouse. In 1940, he had set the national record for the 100m freestyle, a record that remained unbroken for 31 years. An expert short- and long-distance swimmer, Nag also mentored Bengal’s most talented swimmers.
Her enormous passion for swimming ensured that her progress in the sport was quick: between 1946 and 1951, she won 22 state-level competitions in swimming events like 100m freestyle, 100m breast stroke and 200m breast stroke. In 1948, she won two silvers – in 100m freestyle and 200m breast stroke – and a bronze – in 200m freestyle – at the national championship held in Mumbai.
Determined to excel, the hardworking girl put in her sweat and blood, and in 1951, went on to create an all-India record in 100m breast stroke. The same year, she also set new state-level record in 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle and 100m back stroke.
The proudest moments of India’s sporting history, Arati first got the inspiration to attempt this feat from two swimming legends – Brojen Das and Mihir Sen.
Sen, along with Arun Gupta (the assistant secretary of Hatkhola Swimming Club), organised fund-raising events and other initiatives to make Arati’s participation in the event possible. However, despite their sincere efforts, funds raised still fell short of the target.
At this point, Arati’s supporters took up the matter with Chief Minister of West Bengal Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, and Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, both of whom showed keen interest in Arati’s endeavour and helped arrange the logistics of her trip.
The big day finally arrived but it did not get off to a good start. But pilot boat did not arrive on time and she had to start late by 40 minutes. The missed favorable weather conditions, she had to face a strong opposing current when she was just five miles from the English coast.
The next six hours against the current very struggling , Arati had to finally quit under pressure from her pilot. But the tenacious young woman was not one to give up in the face of failure. But with hard training , she prepared herself for a second attempt.
Arati made her second attempt , On September 29, 1959 . Rough battling waves and powerful currents for 16 hours and 20 minutes, she finally reached Sandgate, her destination on the English coast. The first thing done by Saha was hoist the Indian tricolour, fluttering proudly in the cool breeze as if it knew that this victory was not just for Arati, but for all the women of India.
Arati passed away due to jaundice in 1994, a month before her 54th birthday, bringing the curtains down on a glorious chapter in Indian swimming.
She was create history that time when the rest of the world believed that Indian women rarely ventured outside their kitchens, Arati overcame obstacles, both physical and mental, to carve her way to success. The example she set decades ago continues to inspire countless Indian women to chase their dreams, no matter how improbable they seem.