Manohor Aich (born 1912) grew up in a village near Comilla, in present-day Bangladesh. Even as a little boy, two things interested him above everything else: music and bodybuilding. He would sit for hours watching the local boys practice with lathi (sticks) and dumbbells at fitness clubs. Caught up in that tradition, Aich, drank in the principles of bodybuilding with a passion. Aich started his training at the age of 15 with a very simple routine and virtually no equipments. His first routines contained just two exercises – Dips and squats. Slowly, he started adding in the Press, bench and curls to his routine before dabbling with the Olympic lifts. Standing a tiny 4 feet 11 inches and weighing 7 stones, at his peak, Aich had a personal best of 550 (total) on the Olympic lifts.
When Bengal split into two, Aich came to live in West Bengal. Bodybuilding continued to be his dream, though he found himself a job as a fitter and rigger in the Air Force in 1941. That ended abruptly with a brief spell in jail during the Indian freedom struggle and the subsequent partition of India. When released, he had no money. It was then that an American magazine caught his eye and he read about the Mr Universe contest. No one helped him. “I don’t believe in God,” Aich says, still disgruntled about having to scrape together the money for his fare to London. He found himself a job in the railways there while he prepared for the contest.
His first major success in bodybuilding came in 1951, when he placed 2nd in the NABBA Mr Universe contest (short height category). The next year, he won his height class along with the “most improved bodybuilder” award. In addition to the Mr Universe titles, he also won three gold medals in the Asian Games when bodybuilding was a part of these games.
While largely unknown to the western world, Aich stays a legendary name in Indian bodybuilding, and not just for his Mr Universe win in 1952. Often known as the “pocket Hercules”, now aged 100, Aich still trains regularly for 90 minutes or so in his gym, Studio de Physique and has a physique that much younger men would be proud of. Aich gives his profession the credit for having kept him healthy. He has never been hospitalised and has only been ill twice, once at 12 with malaria and once with cholera at 22. Today, his profession also brings him money as never before. His two sons run the gyms in his home, one upstairs and one downstairs. The monthly fee is Rs 200. He keeps the equipment he trained with to show what it was like before motorised treadmills.
As far as the great supplement myth in bodybuilding is concerned, Aich’s typical diets centered solely around rice, pulses, vegetable curry, fish, chicken, milk and some fruits. No modern day miracle supps …
“I didn’t become rich. There is not much money in bodybuilding. But there is respect. And for that, I wouldn’t mind being a bodybuilder in my next life as well,” he says.
The 100-year-old Pocket Hercules has just one regret: and that’s never having the chance to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger, his fellow Mr. Universe.
Manohor Aich Career highlights:
1951, Mr Universe (short) – 2nd
1952, Mr Universe (short) – 1st
1955, Mr Universe (short) – 3rd
Total – Olympic lifts: 550 lbs
At the age of 93, and weighing less than 7 stones:
Bench press – 180 lbs
Squat – 245 lbs
India’s first Mr Universe Manohar Aich Video