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Recalling Brojen Das our legendary hero in swimming
Md. Mahfuzur Rahman Siddique

          During the period from 9th June to 9th July, 2006, millions of Bangladeshi sports lovers witnessed the FIFA World Cup, 2006, held in Germany. They knew about the legendary footballers of the 32 participating nations, they talked about their tactics, they were overwhelmed with the sensation and excitement, created by the charismatic football legends. In all probability, amidst this excitement and pre-occupation with football, they forgot to remember their own legend in a different sport event -- swimming, on the 3rd July. This day was the fifth death anniversary of the legendary laurel winner for the nation in swimming. On this fateful day, the nation lost another of her proudest sons -- Brojen Das, who through astonishing feats of prowess in swimming, earned unprecedented honour for the nation. He has left behind an unparallel legacy in the world of athletics. Therefore, it is certainly essential to present a profile of this forgetable hero to his successors. Brojen Das -- the World renowned swimmer, singularly gave the Bangladeshi nation the widest familiarity in the athletic world.
He was born on December, 1927, in the village of Kochiapara under Sherajdhikhan police station of the District of Munshigonj, which is crisscrossed by the mighty river, Meghna. From his childhood he became familiar with the Meghna and the Dhaleswari rivers. His father was by profession a businessman and resident of Lalkuthi of what is now called old Dhaka. He got his son Brojen admitted in the Jubilee School. From the very childhood, Brojen was attracted to sports. During the school days, he used to play football, cricket and volleyball. Though he played volleyball and cricket in his District team, he developed more attraction to swimming. His father was a vegetarian. But he liberally allowed Brojen to take non-vegetarian food to meet his protein requirement as a would-be athlete. His interest in swimming gradually surpassed his fasciations in other disciplines. He could easily defeat children of comparable age in this particular sport.
In those days, there was nothing like competition or coaching in sports for the children of his age. Before him, the only source of inspiration were the annual sports meets of the Halls of the Dhaka University, Jagannath College and the Engineering College.
These sports meets drew a large member of spectators. Almost all the schools of the Dhaka city were closed for a half day to give their students the opportunity of enjoying these sports competitions as spectators. The winners were highly respected in their respective localities. This show of honour sowed in Brojen's young mind the seeds of becoming honourable in the society and earn honour for the nation by becoming a great swimmer.
The year 1944 was turning point in his life. In that year, the reputed swimmer of the sub-continent -- Mr. P.K. Gosh, came to Dhaka accompanied by his wife to take part in an exhibition swimming event. In a pond adjacent to Lalkuthi, Mr. Gosh organised a competition picking one student from each school. Brojen enthusiastically opened his mind to Mr. Gosh to compete in this meet from his school. Mr. Gosh nodded smilingly. Brojen took part and finished first. After completion of the school final, he went to Calcutta in 1947. One day, while walking through a street, he incidentally came across Mr. P. K. Gosh. At the first sight, the master swimmer could not recognise Brojen -- the boy seemingly with a great potential in this sport.
After the greetings, he asked Brojen to see him at the Hedua Swimming Club -- which he founded in north Calcutta. Brojen's life took a turn towards a spectacular career as a triumphant athlete in swimming. As a recognition of his potentiality in this aquatic sport, the authorities of this club arranged his admission in the Viddyasagar College with the full financial support for tuition fees including hostel charges for him. Within a short while he made his mark as the fastest swimmer of West Bengal.
After the 'Great Divide' of 1947, he, at the behest of his father came back to Dhaka permanently in 1953. He played the dominant role in organising the first provincial swimming competition in 1953 in a pond of Dhaka University in the absence of any swimming pool in the then East Pakistan. Out of total nine, he became champion in seven events. His potential prompted the formation of the swimming committee of the then East Pakistan Sports Federation. In the same year, all Pakistan Swimming Championship was held in Lahore. Brojen took part in the 100 m freestyle.
But, unfortunately, due to misjudgment at the finishing stage he adjudged second. In 1954, the Pakistan Olympic Games was scheduled to take place in Dhaka. The Chief Secretary of the Province and the President of the East Pakistan Sports Federation -- Mr. Niaz Muhammad Khan, while presiding over a preparatory meeting, wanted to know the events in which East Pakistan had hope of winning. Almost all present in the meeting kept mum. Only Mr. Mohsin, a sports organiser opened his mouth. He suggested that in swimming East Pakistan had a possibility. But there was no swimming pool. Mr. N. M. Khan called the proprietor of the Dhaka Stadium construction firm, Omar Sons in the meeting.
A swimming pool was constructed in a hurry. The Fire Service helped to fill the pool with water pumped from a neighbouring canal just before one hour of the competition. Brojen won the first gold for the then East Pakistan in that game. He won a total of four golds in the meet.
As the Captain of the Dhaka University team he made his team champion for the first time in the inter-University swimming championship, held in Karachi in 1956. In the same year, the then Pakistan contingent in the Melbourne Olympiad consisted of four swimmers with the unfortunate exclusion of Brojen Das, through he was the national champion at that time. The Sports Board Advisor, Mr. Kardar, the famous Cricketer was deputed to inquire into the reasons of his non-inclusion. But the result of the inquiry was not in his favour. Against the backdrop of this disappointment, the second turning point took place in his life. The first one, as we have known earlier, his unexpected acquaintance with Mr. Prafullah Gosh -- his mentor. His was a success story, since Mr. Gosh was then the most famous swimmer in the sub-continent. This time he passed through a sad story of repeated failure. One day he went through a five-column-banner story about the failure of Mr. Mihir Sen to cross the English Channel in his fourth attempt in the prestigious the Statesman.
He repeatedly read the news. He tried to find out the significance of carrying a story on this failure with such prominence in a daily of the stature of the paper. In Mihir Sen's failure, Brojen saw the pillar of success for him. He took a vow to cross the mighty Channel. He expressed his desire to noted sports journalist S. A. Mannan, commonly known as Ladu Bhai in our sports arena. Brojen persuaded Ladu Bhai to accompany him to Calcutta where he introduced himself with Mr. Mihir Sen without introducing him as a swimmer. He gathered a lot of information about crossing the English Channel. Having kindled a great hope in his mind to cross the channel in future after conversation with Mihir Sen, he came back to Dhaka.
With the earnest hope of crossing the channel, Brojen started an all-out preparation. As part of his prolonged preparation, he swam back and forth in the Dhaka Stadium swimming pool a distance of 12 miles in 1957. The event was inaugurated by Mr. Justice Ibrahim. After a month, in the same venue he covered a distance of 26 miles. In September of the same year he swam continuously for 48 hours in the same place and, after it, he was drawn out of the pool by the then Chief Minister Mr. Ataur Rahman Khan.
As part of training in turbulent water, he set out on a long distance swimming from Narayangong to Chandpur. Accordingly, all was arranged the President of the then East Pakistan Sports Federation -- Brigadier Shahebdad, appointed two rifle men to escort him in a boat. In the estuary of Chandpur, they were caught in a sudden nor'wester when he was salvaged by the steamer Ostrich. By this time he covered a distance of 45 miles. Thousands of people thronged at Chandpur rover-port to greet him.
The distant possibility of Brojen's crossing the channel was now in sight. His return to Dhaka saw the formation of the Pakistan Channel Crossing Committee with Chief Minister Ataur Rahman Khan as the President and Mr. Mohsin as the Secretary.
With due diligence, and a prolonged hard practice, Brojen prepared himself to take part in channel crossing. In May, 1958, he left Dhaka for Karachi on way to London accompanying his manager Mr. Mohsin and Coach Mr. Muhammad Ali. Efforts were made to collect necessary fund for his stay, preliminary practice and acclimatisation in London. Many people volunteered cooperation in this regard. The then Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka -- the maternal grand father of grand master Niaz Murshed, Mr. Ali Ahmed, and Barrister Zamir Uddin were among them. During this time Mr. Tamiz Uddin Khan became the Finance Minister and assured him all financial assistance. H. S. Sharuwardhy wrote a letter to his close relative and High Commissioner in the UK -- Mr. Ekram Ullah, requesting for all possible help. In 1958, Brojen Das crossed the English Channel as the first Asian to do so. Among the males, he became the first.
Back home, he was warmly greeted by the then President Field Marshall Ayub Khan. His reception in the Curzon Hall was attended among others by Maj. Gen. Omrao Khan. In 1959, he crossed the channel for the second time with the direct cooperation of the then President. Next year, he also crossed it.
This time Kazi Rakib was his manager. Here he narrowly missed a world record. In 1961, he crossed the channel twice and in his second attempt he set two world records simultaneously. For this astonishing feat he was personally greeted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In the reception arranged in his honour by the then Pakistan High Commission in London, the last Viceroy of the British Raj in the sub-continent -- Lord Mount Batten, honoured him with greeting and by exchanging pleasantries with Brojen Das. In a reception arranged in his honour in the Dhaka Stadium, the Governor of the then East Pakistan -- Lt. Gen. Azam Khan, termed Brojen as the 'Sher of Bengal' in the sports arena.
He crossed the channel six times, before his the record was four times. In 1961, he clocked 10.35 hours to finish the event -- previously, the record holder was Abdul Al Rahim of Egypt whose timing was 10.50 hrs.
After the emergence of Bangladesh this illustrious son of the soil also contributed a lot in raising the structure of sports in the newly established country -- both in official and private capacity.
The new-born nation also honoured this national hero with the highest civilian award- the 'Swadhinata Puraskar' -- The Independence Award. Brojen himself became world famous and he gave his nation fame and familiarity the world -- especially in the athletic World, as the first and single Bangladeshi athlete to cross the English channel setting the record both in respect of number and time.
But the irony is that the successors of this supremely successful swimmer -- is the present generation of Bangladesh swimmers, are continuously cutting a sorry figure in all international competitions though they are much more equipped with training and physical facilities which were unthinkable to Brojen Das.
The life struggle, perseverance, determination and success of Brojen Das could definitely be a beacon to his successors in the sports arena of riverain Bangladesh. Will they be rejuvenated by the brilliant legacy of Brojen Das and become determined to honour his memory with the best excellence in swimming? If they care at all, the coming South Asian Games at Colombo in 2006 could be the most opportune occasion to do so. May the soul of this great son of this soil rest in eternal peace.


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