From our childhood, gender roles and attributes are instilled in our minds. A man must be tall, strong and athletic. A woman must me small, graceful and homely. These, and many other physical and behavioral expectations are placed upon the shoulders of a child. These gender stereotypes percolate to everyday activities, as well as different professions and fields. Unfortunately, the world of sports has not been spared. But, sports have also let some people break the stereotypes and do great things despite their ‘oddities’. Let’s check out India’s first Mr. Universe.
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Manohar Aich and Ashwini Waskar: Two Bodybuilders of Different eras and Similar Dreams
Here are two people who are from different eras. Each has faced a different kind of problem, because of the difference in the nature of stereotypes they fought. Yet they did it. Both are body-builders – one, the first Indian to become Mr. Universe, despite his physique, and the other, a woman in the world of men. Let’s take a look at India’s first Mr. Universe.
Manohar Aich was born in a far removed village named Dhamti, which is now in Bangladesh. Since his childhood, he showed great interest in sports that involve physical strength, such as wrestling, weight-lifting, etc., and started practicing. By the time he was 12, he had already acquired great body strength. However, this took downward spiral when his contacted black fever. He took to bed, and by the time he recovered, he had lost a considerable amount of body strength. However, Aich did not give up. To regain his fitness, he started practicing calisthenics and body weight exercises. He did as many as 100 repetitions in each set.
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Aich was an exceptionally strong teen, as he became habituated to bending steel with his teeth and spears with his neck. His control allowed him to rest his belly on sword tips. He also performed at a show called Physique and Magic. In sports, especially in body building, it is expected of a man to have some natural qualities. One of them is height. But, Aich lacked that one quality, as he was only 4 feet 11 inches tall. But he is truly a big thing is a small package.
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Aich joined the Royal Air Force in 142, and was introduced to weight training by a British officer. It was then that Aich decided to become a professional bodybuilder, and started working diligently, which ultimately resulted in a chiseled physique. He also gained great popularity among the British officers. But, not all people are the same, and Aich came across a British officer who was a staunch propagator of colonial oppression. Aich ended up slapping this officer, and the brave and righteous man was jailed for this. But he used the time behind bar to amp up his training. He worked out for about 12 hours daily.
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Finally, in 1950, Aich bagged the Mr. Hercules title. The next year, he missed the top position at the Mr. Universe contest. Then, in 1954, he achieved the prestigious Mr. Universe title. He became the first Mr. Universe from India. He also won the World Championship of Spring Pulling when he tore a spring of 275 pounds tension. Today, at an age of 102, Aich is as fit and healthy, and looks as great as ever. He officially posed for the last time at the age of 0, back in 2003. However, he still poses at local competitions.
Two People One Dream – The stories of India’s first Mr. Universe and female competitive bodybuilder
Hailing from Raigad in Konkan, Maharashtra in India, Ashwini Waskar first hit the gym a couple of years ago, to get in shape as she was putting on weight. Having completed her graduation in fisheries in the year 2009, after which she went to Mumbai to join the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology as a senior research fellow. During this period, she began to grow overweight, and decided to join a gym in 2012. As she worked out, she gained huge enthusiasm, and started lifting weights and following a protein-rich diet.
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In 2013, Waskar was captivated by a bodybuilding competition for men. Coincidentally, she heard an announcement about the first national level female bodybuilding competition. She immediately decided to give it a go. When she returned to her to her hometown the same year, she went to a local gym where she astounded the owner Rajesh Angad by performing the same routines and male bodybuilders.
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Angad informed Waskar of an event in Pune. But, Waskar, who is from a conservative family, knew that it would be difficult to convince her parents, because body-builders are required to wear revealing attires. She asked for permission from her father, who took a day to think about it, and finally, surprised her with a positive reply, because he did not see anything wrong in exposing her body for a sport where the competitors would all be similarly dressed. He even agreed to bear her training and participation costs.
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Waskar stood fifth in her first ever competition in 2014. That was the beginning of her journey. The road has been tough so far, because despite her hard work and participation in seven international competitions, she has been unable to find sponsorships. Her father is her only supporter. She even had to sell off her gold chain to participate in an event in Mumbai, to bear the monthly cost of Rs. 20,000, which is more than $300. But that does not dampen her spirits. She is positive about her own future, as well as the future of women in bodybuilding. She is also open to giving training to young girls if they are interested in body-building, and wish to participate in body-building competitions.
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Both Aich and Waskar aimed for the stars, and reached it. They ignored the norms of the society, and went where they wanted to go, thus showing the world that anything is possible, especially in the world of sports, if you set out towards your dream.
India’s first Mr. Universe Manohar Aich inspired hundreds of body builders out there in India.