‘Don’t take life too seriously’: Advice of ‘Pocket Hercules’ Mr Universe champion as he celebrates his 100th birthday
By David Baker
PUBLISHED: 18:37, 18 March 2012 | UPDATED: 15:40, 19 March 2012
Rippling his muscles and flashing a toothless grin a former Mr Universe known as the ‘Pocket Hercules’ celebrates his 100th birthday.
And what has been the key to long life for the super-fit centenarian who has battled poverty, a stint in prison and a minor stroke – not taking life too seriously.
The diminutive Manohar Aich, who is 4ft 11ins tall, overcame many hurdles to achieve his body building glory.
Born in the small town of Comilla in Bengal, he was attracted to exercising and building his muscles when as a schoolboy he saw a group of wrestlers in action.
After leaving school in 1942, 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.
Encouraged by a British officer named Reub Martin, who introduced him to weight training, 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.
He said: ‘It was in that jail that I began weight training seriously. This helped me prepare myself for the world championship.
‘In jail I used to practice on my own, without any equipment, sometimes for 12 hours in a day.’
The prison authorities were so impressed with his perseverance and hard graft he was given a special diet to help build his stamina and it was India’s independence in 1947 that led to Aich’s release.
Dogged by poverty, Aich and his wife struggled to put their four children through school. There was little cash to indulge his passion for body building, but Aich took up odd jobs to earn a little on the side.
His 1950 win of a ‘Mr. Hercules’ contest spurred him to set his sights on the Mr. Universe tournament in London and a year on Aich came second in the contest.
He decided to stay in London to prepare for another shot at the title and to India with the crown after bagging the title in 1952.
What followed were a host of awards, including top positions in Asian Body building Championships, and his more popular title of ‘Pocket Hercules’ due to his small frame.
Six decades later, Aich still heads to the gym to help his sons run a fitness center and spends his days guiding juvenile hopefuls to reach the heights of body building that he did.
A minor stroke last year has robbed him of the ability to lift weights, but he keeps a watchful eye on young body builders training in his gym.
Although his two sons did not take up body building, Aich says his mentoring has earned him many rewards. It has produced India’s eight-time national champion, Satya Paul, while another protege, Premchand Dogra, scooped the Mr. Universe title in 1988.
MR UNIVERSE: THE CHAMPIONS YOU DON’T WANT TO MESS WITH
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.
Despite tough times and his tireless efforts to make it as a muscle man Aich says his ability to take his troubles lightly and remain happy are the secrets to his long life.
That, and a simple diet of milk, fruits and vegetables along with rice, lentils and fish have kept him healthy.
He does not smoke and has never touched alcohol, he said.
‘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’
Sitting in a room decorated with posters and pictures of his many bodybuilding triumphs today he said that he did have one regret however.
That he never had a chance to meet his more famous counterpart, and fellow Mr Universe winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But Aich says he’s seen many of Schwarzenegger’s action films.
‘I like the incredible stunts he does in the movies,’ he added
His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered yesterday in the eastern city of Kolkata to celebrate his birthday the day before.
Hindu priests chanted prayers while a feast was laid out to honour him.
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