KOLKATA: At just under five feet, Manohar Aich was easily labelled Pocket Hercules by the gentry in London. But until Aich had won the Mr Universe in 1951, he was just an average Indian working at a London train company on a daily wage basis. Aich put in hard labour everyday and then returned home to train for hours in the aim of winning the title that could give him a lifetime of fame. When he finally did it, Aich never had to think again where the next meal would come from.
With that started a lifelong partnership with discipline that saw Aich become a centennial man. Interestingly, Aich stepped into the 100th year of his life a day after India had feted Sachin Tendulkar for reaching 100 international centuries. Comparing him with Tendulkar would used to bring out an adorable toothless smile in Aich. “Discipline came from within. Nobody initiated me to body building. It just happened to me slowly. But I always maintained a strict regimen — sit-ups, push-ups even when I was in Bangladesh before independence,” Aich had told HT during an interview in 2012.
Born in the year 1912, in a small village called Dhamti (in Comilla, Bangladesh), Aich had begun body building early in his life. He worked at the Royal Air Force where a flare-up with an air marshal sent him to jail. Legend has it he had slapped the marshal but Aich only said the ‘saheb’ had interfered with his daily workout. “It was in jail that father started rigorously working out. He was released after independence but was very poor then. For a few months he had to sell coconuts at the Sealdah station,” said daughter Bani Banerjee during the interview.
Finally inspired by British bodybuilder Reub Martin, Aich travelled to England and try out his luck at the Mr Universe show. He lost to Monotosh Roy in the 1951 contest but won in 1952, 12 months after India’s Asian Games football gold glory and the same year Khashaba Jadhav became independent India’s first individual medal winner in wrestling.
Since then, Aich had travelled the length and breadth of the country and abroad to be part of numerous shows and competitions. Most memorable among them however was the show in association with magician PC Sorcar — ‘Magic and Physique’. While Sorcar enthralled audiences with his magic at one end of the stage Aich had his own set of tricks — neck-strap lifting, some weightlifting, bearing massive port anchor chains on his 54-inch chest. From the sooty interiors of London’s t rain companies t o stages across the world and later on the political arena in what culminated as a brief unsuccessful political fling, Aich lived a life without regret.