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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

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Manohar Aich - India's pocket sized Mr Universe. Image source: Sportswiki.com
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  • 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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Mary Kom Decides To Opt Out Of Asian Games Squad

Instead of Mary, fellow Manipur star Sarjubala Devi will represent India in the women's 51 kilogram category at the Asiad.

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Mary Kom Decides To Opt Out Of Asian Games Squad
Mary Kom Decides To Opt Out Of Asian Games Squad. Flickr

Five-time world champion M.C. Mary Kom has decided to opt out of the Indian boxing squad for the 2018 Asian Games, which was announced here on Friday.

Instead of Mary, fellow Manipur star Sarjubala Devi will represent India in the women’s 51 kilogram category at the Asiad.

“Sarjubala Devi defeated Pinki Rani in the selection trial to take the final spot in the squad. Both the boxers had earned equal points and share of wins in the last two months and the trial was organised to finalize the last name in the squad,” the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) said in a statement on Friday.

“Sarjubala Devi dominated in the trial match and won with rather ease to log in her name on the Asian Games roster.”

When contacted by IANS, Mary stated that she is concentrating on winning gold in the 48kg division at the World Championships to be held here in November.

“I opted out myself because there is is no 48 kilogram category at the Asian Games. Right now I am focussed on winning gold at the World Championships in that weight category,” Mary told IANS.

“Also, I have won medals at the Asian Games which include a gold and bronze in the 51kg event. Now I want to give a chance to the upcoming youngsters,” she added.

Replying to query by IANS, the  stressed that the five-time world champion is not in the squad since her preferred weight category is not included at the Asiad.

“She is not excluded. The Asian Games has only three weight categories in women’s boxing (51kg, 57kg and 60kg) where respective players will represent India,” the BFI said.

Apart from Sarjubala, 2016 World Championship silver medalist Sonia Lather (57kg) and Pavitra (60kg) will represent India in the women’s events.

Ms. Universe bollywood actress Susmita Sen and Boxer M C Mary Kom at Guwahati IIT Monday , December 15 ,2013
Ms. Universe bollywood actress Susmita Sen and Boxer M C Mary Kom at Guwahati IIT Monday , December 15 ,2013. flickr

Among the men’s Vikas Krishan (75kg) who has previously won a gold and bronze at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games respectively, will spearhead the Indian challenge.

Reigning Commonwealth Games (CWG) champion Gaurav Solanki (52 Kg), who recently won gold at the Chemistry Cup. also made the cut and will look to emulate his CWG run at the Asian Games.

CWG bronze medallist Mohammad Hussamuddin (56kg) and silver medallist, Amit Panghal (49kg) have also been named in the squad and will hope to shine on their debut at the continental event.

Former CWG champion Manoj Kumar (69Kg), who has struggled with his form over the past several months, will aim to prove himself once again.

Providing depth to the squad will be World Championship bronze medallist Shiva Thapa, who will make his return to the squad after missing out on the Commonwealth Games.

“In the trial held at the Indira Gandhi Stadium on Friday, CWG silver medallist Manish Kaushik felt short as tThapa stamped his position in the squad,” the BFI statement said.

“Kaushik in the past has twice won against Shiva, but the experienced boxer from Assam looked determined and left the Army pugilist reeling in the middle of the squared ring to earn his berth for the Asiad.”

In the trials for the 64kg weight category, Army boxer Dheeraj defeated Rohit Tokas to book his place in the national squad. Dheeraj is in good form at present and had taken bronze at the 2018 Chemistry Cup.

“In order to keep the selection process transparent, BFI had taken into account performances of all the pugilists from January 2018 with the CWG holding the utmost importance along with performances in the series of international exposure trips that were conducted in the last month alone for the men and women boxers. Along with their international performances the selection committee also accounted their performance in camp, physical status and injury history while finalising the final names,” the federation said.

Also read: Mary Kom aims to win a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics

The 2018 Asian Games will be held in Indonesia from August 18 to September 1, with the boxing events starting on August 24. (IANS)