Today’s Doodle, illustrated by Kolkata native and guest artist Lavanya Naidu, celebrates the 80th birthday of the trailblazing Indian swimmer Arati Saha. On September 29, 1959, Saha covered a breathtaking 42 miles from Cape Gris Nez, France to Sandgate, England (a route depicted in today’s Doodle) to become the first Asian woman to swim across the English Channel—a feat considered the swimming equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.
Arati Saha was born on this day in 1940 in Calcutta, British India (Kolkata, India). At four years old, she learned to swim on the banks of the Hooghly River, and her precocious skill in the water soon attracted the mentorship of one of India’s top competitive swimmers, Sachin Nag. Under Nag’s wing, Saha won her first swimming gold medal when she was only five, and it was certainly not her last.
A record-setting prodigy by just 11 years old, Saha became the youngest member (and one of only four women) on the first team to represent the newly independent India in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. At the age of 18, Saha made her first attempt to cross the English Channel, and though it was unsuccessful, she never gave up. Just over a month later, she conquered miles of churning waves and currents to complete the journey, a historic victory for women across India.
In honor of her enduring achievements, Saha became the first-ever female recipient of India’s Padma Shri award in 1960.
Happy birthday, Arati Saha, and thank you for channeling your passion to inspire women everywhere!
Guest Artist Q&A with Lavanya Naidu
Today’s Doodle was illustrated by Kolkata native and guest artist Lavanya Naidu. Below, she shares her thoughts behind the making of this Doodle:
Q: Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?
A: Having been born and raised in the city of Kolkata, for me, Arati Saha was a known household name growing up. 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!
Q: What were your first thoughts when you were approached about the project?
A: I had to pinch myself to believe it! I have been following Google Doodles for years and never imagined I would create one one day. And for the Doodle to be celebrating Arati Saha—a fellow Kolkatan—was icing on the cake!
Q: Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle?
A: I drew inspiration from Saha's most celebrated achievement of having crossed the English channel and becoming the first Asian woman to do so! I definitely wanted to portray that milestone in the Doodle and tried a few variations before narrowing down to the map concept, which I felt best captured it.
Q: What do you hope people take away from your Doodle?
A: I hope it adds to the celebration of female figures in our country's history and of human resilience. I also hope it’s an inspiration to people everywhere to dream big, no matter where you come from.
Early concepts of the Doodle