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Remembering Manohar Aich who took elephants on his chest

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I still remember Little Hercules, the legendary body-builder of Bengal, Manohar Aich. Yes, I had the good luck of meeting this man and even was turned away one day, when I reached his ‘akhada’ or class late. My only dream then was of a good physique to impress my girlfriend! Our para always had a reason to celebrate, as we told our friends with a lot of pride that Manohar Aich is our neighbour. There was hardly any young man in our block who did not visit his akhada, the temple for body-builders. Right from my childhood I heard a lot about him from my elders. How hedid the unthinkable, by making an elephant stand on his chest, how he could bend an iron rod easily with his teeth. It was since then that I started looking up at him like a demi-God. Not that I had witnessed his ‘superhuman’ powers, but I had heard so much, that I started hero worshipping him. 

When I was in class VII, I often met him at Dakhhinpara market. He was a short man, I was taller than him by then. After my Madhyamik examinations, I decided I must have a good physique. Thus, I started working out at Manohar Aich’s class. I still remember 19th March, a wonderful spring day, when I got late for his class, as I was busy wandering the streets with my girlfriend. When I finally reached,Manohar Sir promptly turned me out as he never allowed anyone to enter the coaching post 7pm. That was the last day I had been late for his classes. He was 92 years old then and he was running short of memory at times. Yet, he was so disciplined.

Locals said he stood for elections some two years back and announced that gymnasiums were more important than schools. People thought he had gone crazy! But even at that age, he could easily do a set of 100-150 push-upsat a go, though I could hardly do 20. As we did the push ups, Manohar Sir would always keep a strict vigil over us. The minute he would go down for tea, I would give my push-ups a miss. One day, he did not go and made us exercise in front of him. He kept saying that 80 push-ups would do no good. “You have to do 800!” Many of my friends went to modern gyms unlike me and had supplements for building body and followed diet charts. Manohar Aich’s gymnasium was however the only authentic one. Even though he grew old, he continued with his exercise and body building. 

Manohar Aichin his old age had tiffs with his sons and was not looked after by them. This news came up on television. His elder son was furious at this news, but Manohar Aich did not care much about anything. He was someone who lived in his own world. One day my friend Swapnendu, wanted to meet Manohar Aich. I took him, and on touching his feet, Aich asked my friend what was his age. He replied 30. With a smile,Sir said he was 99 and wished to complete his century. His wish was fulfilled. 

His centenary was celebrated in our block with great pomp and show. A toothless, old man Manohar Aich even lectured us on that day about youth and politics, told us how he was arrested and then sent to prison, where he continued to exercise. Aich was awarded with the Bishwasree title that shot him to international fame. Two years back I got the news of Manohar Aich passing away. But he will always be alive in our para that will forever take pride in announcing that Manohar Aichonce lived here.