Manohar Aich was India’s Muhammad Ali, if only you knew the ‘Pocket Hercules’


As models bemoaned the loss of the greatest football player called Muhammad Ali and the Sports Minister of Kerala EP Jayarajan was weeping at the loss of the state’s most gifted athlete Muhammad Ali, a true icon of Indian sport actually died in Kolkata.

Neither the model nor the minister thought it appropriate to make a mention of this 104-year-old ‘Mr Universe’, whom most of India had forgotten, if they remembered at all. Another era, another planet. After all his success on the fourth try came in 1952 when 80% of Indians today were not even born.

Manohar Aich was 4ft 11” short and his stature was that of a giant. We used to read about him when we were young and though he won his title on the fourth try in London once he crossed fifty (54 years of life left) he slipped into oblivion, giving us a cameo recall on his hundredth birthday by those few who cared.

Manohar Aich was Indias Muhammad Ali if only you knew the Pocket Hercules

Manohar Aich passed away on Sunday, 5 May. AFP

In times when news lasts an hour and people in the limelight lose their own shadows in the darkness of anonymity in no time, it was hugely heartening for my generation to see the coverage given Manohar by the usually blasé and indifferent Indian media. They brought him alive in his death to two generations of Indians in a nation where sportspeople are seldom given any space unless they play cricket. For that we should be truly grateful. Why it happened, I have no idea.

Was it because it was hours after Ali and the mood was sombre? Was it because he was 104 and who gets there, not you, not I.
Because he was 4ft 11 inches tall and fought the odds to own the global title.

But the fourth estate did its bit…for once.

I don’t know whether Manohar was rich or poor when he died or how his family is doing but he was our Muhammad Ali, man and don’t you forget it.

Mutually exclusive. Muhammad Ali was the greatest. But if the little Indian, who slapped an Englishman during colonial times for insulting him, fought for independence and then went to England to do what they said he could not do, had the media and the power that exists today back in 1952, he would have been a butterfly and an bee of no less import.

Think of it. No poems, no lyrics, no paeans of praise for fighting the colonial yoke like Muhammad Ali did the racism in his nation.

Same people, same values, same training, same aim, to be the greatest. Almost incredible that both should die around the same time.

As if Manohar and Ali waited for each other to go into the night.

You people reading this will never understand the distances and spaces of a world without the internet. It took us 15 days to get a letter. We booked calls and waited for the operator to put us through.

Answers came a month after the question.

In such circumstances, a little man with a big ambition took on the world and won.

Give him a moment people, he was India’s first world title holder ever.

Sing him a song. Write him a poem. Drop a tear. He’s ours, all ours.

Even if Minister Jayarajan wants him to be from a Kerala, we are okay with it.

Goodbye Manohar you muscled your way to the pinnacle and in your passing you live once more.

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