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Gymming till age 104: A biography
The Times of India, Jun 06 2016
Aich earned the moniker Pocket Hercules for rippling muscles packed into an astonishingly tiny 4-feet, 11-inch frame, had served in the Royal Air Force and began his weight training in 1942, coincidentally when Ali was born. A decade later in 1952, Aich fought off tremendous odds including bodybuilders who literally towered over him to lift the Mr Universe crown under the amateur category . Five years later, an unknown Austrian called Arnold Schwarzenegger would win the same title. It was Reub Martin, a British officer in RAF who introduced Aich to weight training when he was 30. Pumping iron with determination and without the supplements and steroids that bodybuilders rampantly use today , Aich soon sported a physique that others in the RAF were envious of. But it was in jail where he had been incarcerated for protesting against British oppression of Indians, that he seriously began weight training.
“The stint in prison helped me prepare for the world championship. There were no equipment but I practised free hand 12 hours a day ,“ he recounted during a visit to the TOI office a couple of years ago.
The Universe Championships organized by the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA) was first held in 1948. It is little-known how Aich found himself participating in the contest within a few years of its inception. But he took everyone, including perhaps himself, by surprise when he won the amateur prize in 1952.
For Aich, the results were spectacular but the philosophy was simple: It was al but the philosophy was simple: It was always mind over body . A simple diet complemented an uncomplicated life. Despite his struggles to make ends meet as a bodybuilder, Aich would say it was his ability to take hurdles in the stride that helped him to re main tension free. “Since my young days, I had to struggle to earn money but whatever the situation, I remained happy ,“ Aich had said during his interaction with TOI.
As for his mindboggling longevity , Aich would once again point to his simple diet.He would recite a few lines very frequently that underlined his philosophy: `Uno bhate duno bal bahu bhate rasatal' (A small amount of rice doubles up power while a full portion of rice may bring doom). It spoke of restraint winning over normal practice.
Aich's diet of milk, fruits and vegetables along with rice, lentils and fish kept him healthy . “Jethu (uncle) never smoked, nor did he touch alcohol,“ said Tushar Sil, Trinamool MLA and bodybuilder who was close to Aich, “I would call him jethu because of our age difference, but we were actually friends,“ added Sil.
Aich leaves behind his two sons, grandchildren, great grandchildren and greatgreat grandchildren. Getting introduced to a new addition in the family was his greatest pleasure, said family members. Perhaps that was the driving force.
Although Aich was bed-ridden for a year, his faculties remained razor-sharp.Even after suffering a stroke in 2011, he continued to visit the gym he had built in his house and would keep a watchful eye on young bodybuilders training there.
Born on March 17, 1912, in Dhamti, a remote village in Comilla district of undivided Bengal (now in Bangladesh), Aich was always interested in strength-related sports like wrestling and weightlifting from a very young age. However, he had a near fatal kala-azar (Leishmaniasis) attack when he was barely 12 and suffered severe ill health.
He gradually regained his strength by exercising regularly , doing push-ups, squats, pull-ups, leg raises and traditional sit-ups. Later, in the run-up to competitions, he would do only bodyweightcalisthenics exercises with up to 100 reps per set.
When he won the Mr Universe title, his chest measured 54 inches with waist 23 inches. His last body building show was in 2003.
India’s first Mr. Universe
Standing a tiny 4 feet 11 inches and weighing 7 stones, at his peak, Aich had a personal best of 550 (total) on the Olympic lifts. Manohar Aich overcame many hurdles, including grinding poverty and a stint in prison, to achieve body building glory.
Mr. Aich, who was born in Dhmati, a remote village of Comilla district in Bengal, was a puny youngster. But he was attracted to exercising and building his muscles when as a schoolboy he saw a group of wrestlers in action.
Even as a little boy, two things interested him above everything else: music and bodybuilding. He would sit for hours watching the local boys practice with lathi (sticks) and dumbbells at fitness clubs.
Aich started his training at the age of 15 with a very simple routine and virtually no equipment (his formal workouts were at Ruplal Byayam Samiti [The Ruplal Exerise Group]). His first routines contained just two exercises – Dips and squats. Slowly, he started adding in the Press, bench and curls to his routine before dabbling with the Olympic lifts.
When Bengal split into two, Aich came to live in West Bengal. Bodybuilding continued to be his dream, though he found himself a job as a fitter and rigger in the Air Force in 1941. He joined the Royal air force under India’s British colonial rulers and it was there that he began his relentless pursuit of body building.
Aich died in 2016, at age 104.
Introduction to weight training
Encouraged by a British officer, Reub Martin, who introduced him to weight training, Mr. Aich earned praise for his physique from his peers in the air force.
Some years later, however, he was thrown into prison when he protested against colonial oppression.
“It was in the jail that I began weight training seriously. This helped me prepare myself for the world championship,” said Mr. Aich.
“In jail I used to practice on my own, without any equipment, sometimes for 12 hours in a day,” he recalled.
But the jail authorities were impressed with his perseverance and he was given a special diet to help build his stamina.
India’s independence in 1947 led to Mr. Aich’s release from jail. Dogged by poverty, Mr. Aich and his wife struggled to put their four children through school. There was little cash to indulge his passion for body building, but Mr. Aich took up odd jobs to earn a little on the side.
When released from jail, he had no money. It was then that an American magazine caught his eye and he read about the Mr Universe contest. No one helped him. “I don’t believe in God,” Aich says, still disgruntled about having to scrape together the money for his fare to London. He found himself a job in the railways there while he prepared for the contest
In 1950 he won the Mr. Hercules title
His next major success in bodybuilding came in 1951, when he placed 2nd in the NABBA Mr Universe contest (short height category). The next year, 1952, he won his height class along with the “most improved bodybuilder” award. In addition to the Mr Universe titles, he also won three gold medals in the Asian Games when bodybuilding was a part of these games.
What followed were a host of awards, including top positions in Asian Body building Championships. Over the years, he also earned the more popular title of “Pocket Hercules” due to his 4 foot 11 inch—frame.
Aich, who was born in a remote village called Dhamti in Comilla district, ate whatever he could find - coconuts , mangoes, jackfruit and vegetables.
A simple diet of milk, fruits and vegetables along with rice, lentils and fish have kept him healthy.
Maintaining a simple diet and small portions are characteristic of his daily food intake. In the mornings, he eats a cup of flattened rice (chire), with milk and a cup of coffee. Lunch is usually rice, dal and some vegetables or fish curry. Late in the afternoon, he has another cup of coffee and has rice for dinner once again. Occasionally, he has a glass of fruit juice as well. However, the secret to his prolonged lifespan essentially lies in panta bhaat (rice cooked the day before and left to ferment by adding water), he says. "Earlier I used to have panta bhaat four times a day. Panta bhaater jol, tin jowaner bol (the water of fermented rice can give power to three strong men)," he adds, with a glint in his eyes.
“I never allow any sort of tension to grip me. I had to struggle to earn money since my young days, but whatever the situation, I remained happy,” Mr. Aich said.
Although his two sons did not take up body building, Mr. Aich says his mentoring has earned him rewards. It has produced India’s eight-time national champion, Satya Paul. Another protege, Premchand Dogra, snagged the Mr. Universe title in 1988.
In his 90s
He continued to lift right up until 2011 (at age 99) when a minor stroke caused him to leave the weights on the rack for good. Four years before, when he was 95 he lost his wife, which shattered him.
At age 97, Aich still trained regularly for 90 minutes or so in his gym, Studio de Physique and has a physique that much younger men would be proud of. Aich gives his profession the credit for having kept him healthy. He had never been hospitalised and had only been ill twice, once at 12 with malaria and once with cholera at 22. In his 90s, his profession also brought him money as never before. His two sons ran the gyms in his home, one upstairs and one downstairs. The monthly fee in 2010 was Rs 200. He kept the equipment he trained with to show what it was like before motorised treadmills.
Hitting a century
"Longevity is not in my genes," says Aich. "None of my forefathers actually lived to see a 100."
In his younger years, Aich had tried, and successfully kicked within short periods habits like chewing betel and inhaling snuff. Even at a 100, he did not take any medicines for any ailments or lifestyle disorders. "No high blood pressure, no elevated blood sugar levels, nothing," he says proudly.
Former Mr. Universe who turned 103 in 2015 said that happiness and a life without tensions are the keys to his longevity.
So what is the centenarian's secret to longevity? Not sweating the little things.
"I never allow any sort of tension to grip me. I had to struggle to earn money since my young days, but whatever the situation, I remained happy," he said recently, according to the Daily Mail.
Another factor that has helped him enjoy a long life is his abstinence from drinking and smoking.
At age 100, Mr. Aich continued to help his sons run a gym and fitness centre and spends his days guiding young hopefuls to reach the heights of body building that he did.
Mr. Aich said his ability to take his troubles lightly and remain happy during difficult times are the secrets to his long life.
Mr Universe competition
1951, Mr Universe (short) – 2nd
1952, Mr Universe (short) – 1st
1955, Mr Universe (short) – 3rd
Total – Olympic lifts: 550 lbs
Gold 1951 New Delhi 56 kg
Gold 1954 Manila 56 kg
Gold 1958 Tokyo 56 kg
At the age of 93 (in 2005), and weighing less than 7 stones:
Bench press – 180 lbs
Squat – 245 lbs
The Mr Universe contest
Daily Mail informs us:
The Universe Championships are an annual bodybuilding event organised by the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA).
First held in 1948, the contest was initially only for amateur male bodybuilders - but a separate contest for professionals was added in the year Manohar Aich scooped the amateur prize in 1952.
The athletes are judged on their symmetry, proportions and the size and clarity of each muscle group.
The most famous victor of the competition is actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnie claimed the amateur title in 1967 before claiming the professional prize three years running in 1968, 1969 and 1970.