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Mihir Sen (16 November 1930 – 11 June 1997) was a famous long distance swimmer, best known for being the first Indian to conquer the English Channel from Dover to Calais in 1958 and the only man to earn the distinction of swimming the Oceans of the 5 continents in one calendar year (1966). This included the Palk Strait, Dardanelles, Bosphorpous, The straits of Gibraltar and the entire length of the Panama Canal. In 1969, he was named by The Guinness Book of Records as the greatest “world’s greatest long distance swimmer”.
Mihir Sen was born on 16 November 1930, in Purulia, West Bengal to physician Dr. Ramesh Sengupta and his wife, Lilabati, who were Bengali Brahmins from a poor middle class community. Largely due to the efforts of his mother Lilabati, the Sens moved to Cuttack when Mihir was eight, as Cuttack had better schools.
Caught in the grip of poverty, nonetheless Mihir would go on to graduate with a degree in law from the famous Utkal University in Bhubaneswar in Odisha. He wanted to travel to England to prepare himself for the bar but was constrained by lack of funds and due to the initial lack of support from the then chief minister of Orissa. Nonetheless, in 1950, he managed to board a ship heading for England with the chief minister Biju Patnaik’s help. He was given a suitcase, £10 and a one-way third class ticket.
In England, he initially worked at a railway station as a night porter. Subsequently, he was hired at India House, at the Indian High Commission. He enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn to study Law on 21 November 1951. He worked all day at India House and studied at home at night. He couldn’t afford to attend lectures at Lincoln’s Inn and self-studied from the books he borrowed from their library. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn on 9 February 1954 and his achievements as a swimmer are recorded in their prestigious Black books. During this time, he also met his future British wife Bella Weingarten, at a dance at the International Youth Hostel in London.
He died with a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease at the age of 66 in June 1997.