- Associated Press - Sunday, March 18, 2012

KOLKATA, India — A former Mr. Universe who has just turned 100 said Sunday that happiness and a life without tensions are the key to his longevity.

Manohar Aich, who is 4 feet 11 inches tall, overcame many hurdles, including grinding poverty and a stint in prison, to achieve bodybuilding glory.

His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered Sunday in the eastern city of Kolkata to celebrate his birthday the day before.

Hindu priests chanted prayers while a feast was laid out to honor Mr. Aich, winner of the 1952 Mr. Universe bodybuilding title.

Rippling his muscles and flashing a toothless grin, Mr. Aich says his ability to take his troubles lightly and remain happy during difficult times are the secrets to his long life.

That, and a simple diet of milk, fruits and vegetables along with rice, lentils and fish have kept him healthy.

He does not smoke and has never touched alcohol, he said.

“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,” Mr. Aich said, sitting in a room decorated with posters and pictures of his many bodybuilding triumphs.

Mr. Aich, who was born in the small town of Comilla in Bengal, was a puny youngster. But he was attracted to exercising and building his muscles when, as a schoolboy, he saw a group of wrestlers in action.

In 1942, he joined the Royal Air Force under India’s British colonial rulers, and it was there that he began his relentless pursuit of bodybuilding.

Encouraged by a British officer named Reub Martin, who introduced him to weight training, Mr. Aich earned praise for his physique from his peers in the air force.

Some years later, however, he was thrown into prison when he protested against colonial oppression.

India’s independence in 1947 led to Mr. Aich’s release from jail. Dogged by poverty, Mr. Aich and his wife struggled to put their four children through school. There was little cash to indulge his passion for bodybuilding, but Mr. Aich took up odd jobs to earn a little on the side.

His 1950 win of a “Mr. Hercules” contest spurred him to set his sights on the Mr. Universe tournament in London.

In 1951, Mr. Aich came second in the contest, and stayed on in London to prepare for another shot at the title. He returned to India after winning the title in 1952.