Manohar Aich is a bodybuilding legend with a motivating life story that is worth knowing and sharing.
I recently came to know about this former Mr Universe (1952) whose life and passion for bodybuilding can be called legendary.
As a bodybuilder, he made the country proud on an international stage. But still, he lived a relatively unknown life.
It hurts to know that his contributions towards bodybuilding went unrecognized. He faced financial struggles even after becoming a world champion.
I wrote this article as a small tribute towards this Indian bodybuilding legend.
Manohar Aich’s introduction to bodybuilding
Manohar Aich was born on 17th March 1912, in a poor Bengali family. From a young age, he was interested in wrestling, weightlifting, and soccer.
His attraction towards bodybuilding came when he saw some of the wrestlers flex their muscles.
During his time, there were no gyms and equipment or proper knowledge and guidance. He started with bodyweight workouts like push-ups, pull-ups, leg raises and squats, for hundreds of reps in one go.
At the age of twelve, he was struck with an almost fatal black fever which left him weak and fragile. Upon recovering he started to regain his strength with his rigorous physical training.
Around this time his father fell seriously sick and was unable to work. The responsibility came upon him to earn something for the family.
Became a magician’s assistant
Call it luck, fate or a coincidence; he met a well-known magician P.C Sorcar at Jubilee school in Dhaka who recognized his potential and persuaded him to join his crew.
Along with the famous magician, he worked in a show called ‘Physique and Magic’.
He performed at local festivals and other public events displaying his feat of strength, leaving the crowd in awe.
His ability to bend a steel rod with his teeth and to rest his abdomen on the tip of a sword was a special attraction.
He was able to bend a spear with his neck and could easily tear a 1500 page book in half. He squatted 350kg (770 lbs) weight and dragged 204kg (450 lbs) weight.
Joined the British Army
In the mid-1940s, he joined the Royal Air Force under the British colonial rule.
Here he met British officer Reub Martin who saw the potential in him and introduced him to weight training. He started his bodybuilding endeavour seriously.
Under the guidance of his mentor, he trained hard and got a good diet, which brought out a physique that made his fellow airmen and the officers envious. At a height of 4’11’’ (149cm) he rocked a solid physique with a 54inch chest and a 23inch waist giving him a perfect V-shape.
Went to jail
When the fight for Indian independence started gaining momentum, in 1942, with Quit India movement; he could not control himself and slapped a British officer over his derogatory comment towards Indian independence and favouring colonial rule.
This patriotic act bought him a jail sentence and court-martial from the Air Force.
Even in jail, he continued his training and preparation for bodybuilding. On some days, he would train continuously for twelve hours.
Impressed by his dedication, the jail officials arranged him a special diet.
After India got independence, in 1947, like many other Indian prisoners under British rule, he was released.
This was a time when India was going through a bloody partition and poverty and hunger were rampant.
Poverty couldn’t affect his bodybuilding dream
He and his wife Jyotika had to face grim poverty and found it hard to make the ends meet and to send their four children to school. To earn some income, he started taking up odd jobs.
He came to Kolkatta and started selling Coconuts at the Sealdah railway station.
Even amidst these hardships, his passion for bodybuilding did not take a back seat and he continued to participate in some local bodybuilding competitions.
Nicknamed Pocket Hercules
His first milestone came in 1950 when he won the Title of Mr Hercules earning himself the nickname of ‘Pocket Hercules’ because of his small stature.
In 1951, he went to London to participate in the prestigious Mr Universe contest.
He was the runner-up; Montosh Roy won the title that year, making him the first Asian to win the Mr Universe title.
This did not discourage him and he decided to stay in London to prepare for the competition next year.
He took up a job in British Railways and started to train even harder than before.
Manohar Aich created history
His years of dedication and persistence through all the hardships made his dream into a reality.
On March 17, 1952, in the NABBA Universe Championship he became Mr Universe in the amateur category; coincidently on his birthday.
On a frame of 4feet11inch, he managed to pack in an impressive musculature.
His statistics were awe-inspiring: bicep 18.1inch (46cm), chest 54inch (137cm) when pumped, forearm 14.1inch (36cm) and wrist 6.4inch (16.5cm).
After this win, he came back to his country with a hero’s welcome and the Prime Minister and President of India congratulated him.
His Other Achievements
- He came 3rd in 1955 and 4th in 1960 Mr Universe.
- Won gold medals in Asian Bodybuilding Championship in 1951 (New Delhi) 1954 Manila and 1958 Tokyo.
- He once won the Spring Pulling World Championship by tearing a spring of 275-pound tension.
- In 2015, West Bengal govt. awarded him the Bangla Vibhushan Award.
- Former President Mr A.P.J Abdul Kalam felicitated the 100-year-old Manohar Aich.
His last bodybuilding show was in 2003 at the age of 90.
Even at the age of 99, he continued to lift weights but a minor stroke robbed him of his ability to lift weights and he had to stay away from weight training.
Nonetheless, he continued going to the gym to train and advise young bodybuilders who came to his gym for training.
His protégé include eminent bodybuilders like Satya Paul (8 times national champion) and Premchand Degra (1988 Mr Universe) among others.
After flexing his muscles for seven decades, he died at the age of 104 with age-related complications.
Even though all the early financial struggles, he had no regrets or complaints. He was a happy man with a fulfilling life.
He attributed his amazingly long life to his simple diet of rice, fish, and lentils along with milk, fruits, and vegetables.
His basic philosophy which he always recites was ‘Uno bhate duno bal bahu bhate rasatal’ (A small amount of rice doubles up power while a full portion of rice may bring doom).
He never touched alcohol and never smoked.
This centenarian bodybuilder is one of those little-known athletes who got a lot less than what they deserved and still had no complaints about it.
Manohar Aich is one of the pioneers of Indian bodybuilding.
Bodybuilding was not just his passion but life itself. Life threw many challenges at him but he stood the test of time and made every challenge into an opportunity.
He was a man with a body of steel and a heart of gold.