Masadur Rahman Baidya, the legless swim ace who could count Sachin Tendulkar among his numerous admirers, died after a heart attack in Kolkata on Sunday afternoon. He was 46.
He is survived by mother, wife Salma and daughters Mariam, aged six, and Nehmuna, who is three.
Baidya, who was from Ballavpur village in North 24 Parganas, crossed the English Channel in 1997 to become a worldwide phenomenon. He crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 2001.
Mihir Sen, the first Indian to cross the English Channel in 1958, was his inspiration. "It is absolutely possible for persons with physical disabilities to do things better than normal people. But you have to be dedicated to your cause," Baidya had said.
The swimmer's sister, Monira Rahman, said he was ill since Friday. On Sunday morning he threw up and was shifted to a nursing home near their home. He died within an hour of being admitted, said Baidya's sister.
"His hemoglobin count was really low and blood sugar really high, doctors at the nursing home said," she added.
Like Douglas Bader, the World War 2 hero and fighter pilot who conquered double amputation, Baidya refused to let an accident in his childhood control his life.
He lost both legs after being run over by a goods train when he was nine. He spent nearly 18 months in hospital, but did not let disability dictate his life.
Last December at a function in Kolkata, Tendulkar had said about Baidya: "They are the real heroes and their life is like an inspiration to all of us."