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.
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.
Kolkata has witnessed a string of hooliganism related incidents in recent months, with its long time denizens putting the blame on rising communalism, strained socio-political conditions and a lackadaisical attitude of the administration in catching or punishing the ruffians.
While many of the violent incidents in Kolkata can be attributed to the political tension between Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress and its main challenger the BJP, a few occurrences like lynching of a suspected thief or attack on the junior doctors of a renowned state-run hospital in the heart of the city have shaken the city’s collective consciousness.
On June 5, a mob allegedly beat a man to death inside a club in central Kolkata’s Maniktala after they suspected him as a thief. In March, a 70-year-old man was allegedly beaten to death by a mob on a similar suspicion.
On June 10, two truckloads of people attacked Kolkata’s state-run NRS Medical College and Hospital and brutally beat up the intern doctors, thereafter an altercation broke out between the doctors and the patient party over a man’s death.
Two junior doctors sustained serious injuries, while several others were hurt as the mob pelted stones. The junior doctors alleged that the police personnel stood as mute witness as the attackers went on the rampage. This incident led to a week-long strike by junior medicos across the state and triggered protests by doctors all over the country.
The plight of the doctors moved the city’s eminent people, with the likes of acclaimed director Aparna Sen, painter Samir Aich, musicians Debojyoti Mishra and Anupam Roy walking alongside the medics in a protest rally.
The attack on former Miss India Universe Ushoshi Sengupta by a group of youths in their early 20s, who tried to vandalise her cab and beat up the driver earlier this week, has highlighted the underlying unrest within the society and the vulnerability of the citizens on the roads.
What was more disturbing, the cops – instead of helping out a woman in distress around midnight – made Sengupta run from one police station to another citing the issue of jurisdiction. Describing the incident as “scary and heartbreaking”, Sengupta said it would have been better had the police taken action before her social media post went viral.
“The boys followed us till my colleague’s house and right when we were dropping him near Lake Gardens Government housing, six of the boys in three bikes came and stopped my car, threw stones and broke the car. They dragged me out and tried to break my phone to delete the video,” the model-actress said.
“The experience with the police on the night of the incident was a little heartbreaking. After my Facebook post went viral, top police officers got in touch with me and took prompt action against the offenders. Had they shown this promptness during the incident, it would have been better,” she said.
Within a week of the incident, another young woman travelling in an app based cab was chased by a middle aged person in his car. This time, the accused was promptly arrested by the police. However, in stark contrast, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2016 (the latest report available) had portrayed Kolkata as one of the safest cities for women in the country, even as Bengal recorded the highest number of cases of domestic violence.
The city is ranked 17th in terms of crime (the top place going to the state with the worst record) against women among the 19 megacities in the country, and recorded only 4 per cent of the cases but West Bengal recorded the highest numbers of domestic violence cases against women in 2016.
According to retired IPS officer Md Nizam Shamim, hooliganism is rising as the criminals are getting adequate backing from political outfits. “It is true that the hooliganism in Kolkata and Bengal is rising. According to the media reports it is evident that communal tension, which was never an issue in West Bengal, has now become almost a day to day affair. Naturally, such issues happening around Kolkata, has its effects on the city,” Shamim told IANS.
“When I was working here as a police officer, we acted against the criminals in general but no distinction was made between Hindu criminals and Muslim criminals. But now certain political powers are highlighting this divide. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for the lawmakers to take action as criminals get political backing,” he said.
He said the administration needs to be more active in tracking the hooligans, take action against them while sensitising the youths about the impact of breaking law.
“Also a list of the local criminals and hoodlums were kept at the police stations and they were kept under strict police vigil. I do not know whether today’s officers are doing that. Unless you can cut the source of bombs and arms, such incidents of violence will continue to happen.”
“A section of youths are becoming increasingly reckless due to lack of education and jobs. I see so many of them roaming around in two wheelers without helmets every day. Many indulge in anti-social activities. The police needs to watch them and discourage them from breaking laws,” he added.
Theatre personality Chandan Sen said hooliganism has been on the rise due to the lack of a proper machinery to control the situation.
“Hooliganism is rampant since the last few years. It is increasing fast as there is no machinery in place to stop it. The saddest part is that the political forces are either blind to such incidents or they are catering to the offenders. As a result, it is on the rise,” Sen told IANS.
He said Kolkata had a heritage of togetherness, where people of a certain locality used to be together putting aside caste or communal differences which has now disappeared.
“Also, there are forces giving hooliganism a communal tone and people are falling prey to it. Hooligans do not have a religion. They are criminals. Violence was there in Kolkata even during the Naxalite movement. But at that time it was based on ideological battles between political parties but now it has become a fight to capture power. That’s why people have lost faith in political parties and this helplessness is giving birth to the unrest,” Sen added.
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Recents incidents reported in Kolkata
*February 21: Woman attacked and severely beaten up by locals in Howrah’s Tikiapara near Kolkata on suspicion of child lifting. Locals clashed with police when they tried to rescue her and vandalised police vehicles.
*February 23: A man was beaten up by a mob in North Kolkata’s Phoolbagan on suspicion of him being a child-lifter. Police rescued the victim. 17 persons arrested.
*March (date not confirmed): A 70-year-old man beaten to death in central Kolkata on suspicion of theft.
*March 21: Homeless man killed by a miscreant inside a godown in Charu Market police station area for trying to stop him from stealing cell phones from two young kids.
*April 30: Man beaten to death by construction site staffers for allegedly stealing cell phone in Pragati Maidan police station area. Six arrested.
*June 5: A mob allegedly beat a 36-year-old man to death inside a club in central Kolkata’s Maniktala after they suspected him of theft. Three arrested.
*June10: Two truckloads of people attacked Kolkata’s state-run NRS Medical College and Hospital and brutally beat up the intern doctors there after an old patient’s death. One doctor sustained serious skull injury. Five arrested.