“Lift weights; Eat a simple diet of milk, fruits, and vegetables along with rice, lentils, and fish. Do not smoke and do not drink alcohol. Don’t take life too seriously.” If you are wondering what it takes to become a celebrated bodybuilder and Mr. Universe winner, take this sage advice from Indian bodybuilder Manohar Aich who lived to be 104 years old. Standing at 4’11” tall and nicknamed the “Pocket Hercules,” Aich was the shortest bodybuilder in history who refused to let his pocket-sized stature keep him on the sidelines. Instead, he went on to become the second Indian bodybuilder to ever win a Mr. Universe title at the 1952 NABBA Universe Championships.
Born on March 17, 1912 in the village of Putia in Comilla District, which is now part of present-day Bangladesh, Aich showed a keen interest in sports as a child but suffered a great tragedy when he came down with black fever at 12 years old. Fortunately, he recovered from the fever and regained all his strength as he dedicated his life to healthy living and weight training. Since free weights were unheard of in early 20th century India, Aich developed his own style of bodybuilding and used bodyweight exercises to build his strength. His typical workout consisted of 100 reps of his favorite exercises which included sit ups, leg raises, pull ups, squats and push-ups.
Aich attended the Jubilee School in Dhaka and continued his weight training at the Ruplal Byayam Samiti where his physique quickly turned heads. With his father becoming too sick to work and support the family, Aich used his physique to his favor and teamed up with notable Indian magician P. C. Sorcar in the “Physique and Magic” theatrical shows. During the shows, he would perform dangerous stunts like using his teeth to bend steel, balancing his entire body on the tip of a sword, using his neck to bend spears, tearing massive books in half and dragging 450-pound loads down the street. In those days, this was the only way for Aich and any other bodybuilder or strongman to use their strength for anything glorious.
With India still under British rule during the first half of the 20th century, Aich signed up with the Royal Air Force in 1942 and immediately reaped the benefits of training by pursuing bodybuilding in his spare time. Reub Martin, a British officer in the Royal Air Force, introduced him to weight training for the first time, which took his physique to an entirely new level. Instantly invigorated by pumping iron, Aich packed on more muscle before finding trouble of his own after slapping another British officer who supported colonial oppression. Aich was taken to jail but didn’t let his sentence stop him from pursuing his goal of becoming a professional bodybuilder. In fact, his training increased in intensity as he spent most of his days strengthening his muscles much like he did as a child. By the end of his sentence, his physique was so impressive that even jail officials and guards were giving him a special diet to help him build strength.
After over a year behind bars, Aich was eventually released and left the Royal Air Force for good with obvious improvements to his physique after 12-hour workouts, seven days a week. By 1950, India was granted independence from Britain and the 38-year-old Aich was finally ready to make his debut as a bodybuilder. Doing exactly that, he won the 1950 Mr. Hercules title and made his debut at the Mr. Universe contest the following year where he finished in second place. Winning the title in 1952, Aich was at the peak of his career with 14-inch forearms, a 47-inch chest, 7-inch wrists and 18-inch biceps.
Praised as a national hero in India after his incredible victory, Aich returned to his homeland where he worked as a personal trainer and bodybuilding coach. One of his students, Kshitish Chatterjee, told the New York Times that Aich was a taskmaster at the gym. “If you skipped any workout, you’d get a good kick… Nobody who worked with him ever forgets his coaching—to work with single-minded dedication and not to worry about anything.” Aich affirmed his teaching style and later told The Daily Mail, “I never allow any sort of tension to grip me. I had to struggle to earn money since my young days, but whatever the situation, I remained happy.”
Amid his success as a bodybuilder and personal trainer, Aich took up circus performing in the 1960s where he frequently showed off his incredible muscle control by flexing one muscle at a time. This strength stayed with him well into his 80s with Aich performing until he was 87 years old at which time his fans recalled, “He was wrinkled and bald, but he always had an eight pack, even in old age.”
In 2012, Aich made history once again when he turned 100 years old. When asked about the secret to living a long life, he said that a simple diet of vegetables, fruit and milk was just as important as eating fish, lentils and rice to stay in good health. Most importantly, he said that keeping stress to a minimum was crucial because tension is what kills most people. By not taking life too seriously, he avoided constant worry and stress even though he never cashed in on his fame and struggled financially throughout his life.
Living by the philosophy of “as it is” up until his death on June 5, 2016 at 104 years old, Aich never competed in any major professional bodybuilding tournaments but found great honor in his Mr. Universe title and in his life at home with his wife, Jyuthika, whom he married when he was 12 years old. After 80 years of marriage and seeing his two sons follow in his footsteps by opening their own gym, Aich died a celebrity in his native India where he will always be known as the beloved Pocket Hercules.