The Waterman Chronicles

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“Even a mighty ocean can become your pond if you believe hard enough” – said a popular London daily of  Masudur Rahman Baidya, the first physically handicapped swimmer from Asia to cross the English Channel on 28 July, 1997 and the Strait of Gibraltar on 25 September, 2001.

It is not every day that one comes across people who have the courage to embrace what life has to offer and make the most of what they have rather than fret about what they do not. It was indeed an inspiring moment, as I unravelled a heart-warming, hair-raising and overwhelming story behind the ‘Mighty Conqueror of the English Channel’, at an interactive session in Kolkata which Masudur Sahab was attending with the Living Master and Guiding Light of Dhyan Foundation, Yogi Ashwini.

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Here are few excerpts from the interview:

“sabhi bole mera zindagi bekaar hain…bheek maangne se bhi nai milega…”

Having lost both his legs, knee downwards in a train accident at a tender age of 11, life could have ended for Masudur Rahman Baidya…but instead of resigning himself to a fate of apathy, discouragement and sheer dependency…he did something about it…something which turned his life around and made the world stand up and take notice of him.

Born to an imam, who’s monthly pay package was just Rs 250, even getting artificial limbs at the Poona Artificial Limb Centre was a herculean task…but undeterred by this obstacle, the family put together the money…and a new life was born in 1989…It was LC Day, a sports day event at the centre, when Masudur took his first step to turn his handicap into a winning streak, as he won 16 events out of the 17 held, of which 4 were swimming.

From then on, it was no turning back as his return to Kolkata brought with it endless, laborious hours of swimming. But as they say, hard work always pays off, and so it did as Masudur soon found himself not just participating in many inter-club competitions but also always emerging the winner. It was then followed by many long-distance swimming opportunities, starting with a 14 km swim on the Hooghly organized by the Ahiritola Youth Swimming Club, where he stood 5th, followed by the world’s longest swimming competitions held in 1993 and 1995, where he swam 81 kms and stood in the 9th place the first time and 5th the second…The rest we know is that ‘he made history’ as he became the first male swimmer in the world to cross the English Channel without legs in 1997 and first Asian and second in the world to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in 2001 against all odds.

Fame followed, as he received recognition world over from countries like Holland, Spain, Japan, USA, Africa etc., was interviewed by BBC and was given the post of a State Swimming Coach in 2004. But nothing seemed to shake this humble man, as he remains humbled as before and true to his passion. Till date he has trained 4 people to cross the English Channel and is now training 4 girls for the same task. He now aims to swim the 35 km long strait separating India and Sri Lanka.

Ask Masudur what drives him…he says it’s the well-being of his body…a simple but powerful ideology that has kept him driven since his childhood…and the reason why he was there to meet Yogi Ashwini. Having done meditation for a while…his experience during the dhyan session with Yogi Ashwini made him realise that it was different from anything he had observed before and he now looks forward to learning the Sanatan Kriya.

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