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Independent India’s first Mr Universe, Manohar Aich: His Journey from a coconut vendor to World acclaim

The centenarian won the Mr Universe title in 1952, in addition to three gold medals in bodybuilding at the Asian Games

  • Known as “Pocket Hercules” due to his short stature of 4.11 ft
  • Worked as a physical instructor in the Royal Indian Air Force
  • Slapped a British officer, who made an offensive remark against the Indians 

From a coconut vendor at Sealdah station to world acclaim, it had been a long journey for the little big man. A journey with a dramatic beginning — in a military prison. Manohar Aich, who was the first from independent India to win the Mr Universe title, died at the age of 104 in Kolkata on Sunday, June 5. The centenarian won the Mr Universe title in 1952, in addition to three gold medals in bodybuilding at the Asian Games. “He was on a liquid diet for the last 10-15 days. He succumbed to age-related complications,” said Manoj, Aich’s son. Aich is survived by his two sons and two daughters.

Manohar Aich, who died at 104. Mr Universe 1952. Image source:alchetron.com
Manohar Aich died at 104. Mr Universe 1952. Image source:alchetron.com

When The Indian Express team met him on the eve of his 100th birthday, Aich had said: “It was 1942 and the Quit India movement had gathered considerable momentum. I had been working as a physical instructor in the Royal Indian Air Force, when I protested against the British oppression at the camp. I slapped a British officer, who made an offensive remark against the Indians during the interrogation. A court-martial and jail time ensued but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The jailor had been very kind and allowed me to train. In fact, he encouraged it. Then, I was shifted to the Alipore Presidency Jail but release followed as India won her freedom. I decided to settle in Kolkata.”

Soon, Manohar was released from Alipore Jail as India won her freedom. His next favourite place was Jogeshwar Paul’s akhara, where he used to drop in each day before working as a coconut vendor in Sealdah station. As time passed by, this little man achieved fame and Mr Universe happened. In 1951, Mr Universe contest approached, while Aich became popular by then by doing private bodybuilding shows to raise money so that he could make his way to England.

“I had a failed attempt in 1951 but decided to stay back in London, for I was determined to win it next term. Thankfully, I got a job in the British Rail which helped me live my dream. I returned home only after winning the 1952 competition,” Aich had said to the Indian Express team.

That was the beginning of the legend. Aich, at 4ft 11in, towered over the rest to earn the sobriquet ‘Pocket Hercules’. He went on to win the Asian Bodybuilding Championships. “He (Aich) was an inspiration to everyone, young and old. Death is inevitable but Manohar Aich will be remembered by all, across every sporting discipline,” legendary footballer Chuni Goswami told The Indian Express.

Aich always believed that “Our body is a temple that we must worship. Exercise is the only way to stay healthy.” The reason why the boy from Comilla, now in Bangladesh, took great interest in bodybuilding. Four years ago, in 2013 on one sunny March afternoon, he flexed his wrinkled muscles but what made him sad is that he could no longer hit the gym. This was because he had suffered a stroke a year before on 2012, which restricted his movement.

“Pocket Hercules” he was called due to his short stature of 4.11 ft. He started his training in 1942 after he joined the British Royal Air Force. Aich had also won the World Championship of Spring Pulling by tearing a spring of 275 pounds tension.

Aich took a little interest in politics as well and when in 1997 general elections, BJP came calling, he lost that contest. Four years later, in 2000 (Y2K), he lost his wife Jyotika, who had made silent contributions behind his success.

Today, the Legend’s legacy lives through his students. National bodybuilding champion for the eighth time Satya Paul and former Mr Universe Premchand Dogra, and plenty others flock to Bishnu Manohar Aich’s Fitness Centre & Multigym to follow the footsteps of their favourite idol.

-by Vrushali Mahajan, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: Vrushali Mahajan

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