Cultural change required to promote body building in eastern India

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Indranil Halder

After 67 years , a Bengali bodybuilder named Soumya Das won Gold Medal at the iconic Mr. Universe 2019, (professional division) organised by the World Fitness Federation(WFF)at Seoul, South Korea. He made India and non resident Indians across the globe proud.

Soumya Das:

Currently, Soumya Das lives in the Indian city of Kolkata. He is from the village of Payradanga in Nadia district, West Bengal, India. He had studied Bachelor of Arts (Political Science), Kalyani University. He won Championships like Mr. India, Mr. East India & Mr. Bengal (7 times) and Gold winner at Sheru Classic International Championship. He is also The Fit Expo Ambassador and part of the Prestigious Bodyline Team Athletes 2019.

Fitness Goal , Food and Firm Believe :

In 1905, legendary German bodybuilder Eugen Sandow performed and inspired young people in Kolkata. Then on, the bodybuilding craze among Bengali youth picked up momentum. Although, in late 1880s, the story of handsome and well-built youth Narendranath Dutta (later on known as world famous Swami Vivekananda 1863- 1902) daily visiting Ambu Guha’s gymnasium in Kolkata to sculpture his well-proportioned physique was documented. India with all its challenges, continues to stage bodybuilders such as B.C. Ghosh (founder of College of Physical Education, Kolkata, 1923) Kodi Rammurthy Naidu (stopped two automobiles with his bare hands ,Allahabad Exhibition,1910-11) and The Great Gama (returned from England after defeating Dr Benjamin Roller and Stanislaus Zbyszko, 1910).

In 1923, famous Bengali poet Sukumar Ray celebrated bodybuilder or palowan Sasthcharan in Abol Taboleulogises. Some of the famous Bengali names in bodybuilding were Bhabendramohan Saha( photoed with elephantine chest, Bhim Bhabani, 1922), Shyamakanta Bandyopadhayay or Soham Swami(bearing the weight of a huge boulder at the resident of Raja Digambar Mitra lied like a plank between two chairs), Manohar Aich(Mr Universe, 1951) and Monotosh Roy (first Asian to win Mr Universe, 1952). Then after a gap of several decades, body building is again becoming popular.

In Eastern India, it has been influencing youths such as Soumya Das. Soumya’s bodybuilding icons are late Mr Monohar Aich and Mr Durjoy Sarkar. At the age of 14, Soumya had seen a local bodybuilding show in Payradanga village staring Mr Durjoy Sarkar. He was mesmerised. In his childhood, he was over weight but dreamt to become a bodybuilder. He decide to make fitness his goal. He met Mr Durjay Sarkar from the same village who became his coach with Mr.Ajay Sarkar. Their encouragement is a gift to Soumya. He is also encouraged and supported by Mrs Anesha Das (wife and athlete) and Mrs Srilata Das(mother).

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To achieve his bodybuilding goals, Soumya maintains his health with 4days of weight training,one day of flexibility and yoga training and a day of swimming. He remains focused on his macro nutrition diet plan and quality sleep. Soumya participates in 70kg category bodybuilding competitions and says, “ I take 70×3 gm of protein=210gm protein, eat good carbs like, oats,milates, quinoa,sweet potato and consume good fat such as almond, walnut, olive oil, coconut oil.”
To attend a competition, he trains four sessions a day for over 10 months, follows a rigorous diet that consists of low-carbohydrate meals and makes sure that his calorie count did not exceed for the day. Chicken breast, eggs, fish and whey protein are part his strict diet regime. Out of the weekly seven days, he enjoys once a week cheat day. His cheat day includes his favourite bengali fish and crustacean dishes like bhetki paturi(baked fish)
hilsa sorse (mustard fish) and chingri malaikari(prawn curry) cooked by his mother. He is happy to train harder to enjoy his mother’s delicious cooking.

For Soumya, the culture change surrounding bodybuilding is slowly but surely developing in Eastern India. It also needs proper infrastructure , knowledge and support. There is no successive pathway to sponsorships or jobs for bodybuilders. The most they can do is become a certified freelance gymnasium instructors. In 2022, the closure of gymnasiums due to Covid-19 pandemic across the state of West Bengal threatened the survival of thousands of establishments such as health clubs and gymnasiums with hundreds of thousands of employees , vendors and trainers ( most of whom are bodybuilders). Some of the bodybuilders who also work as bouncers or body guard had lost their earnings too.

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Soumya feels, in Eastern Indian, majority of the society lacks the awareness of fitness, stamina and flexibility with bodybuilding and also its benefits on mental health, confidence and discipline. Even then, he encourages himself and other fitness enthusiasts with constant diet and training. At the moment, he finds there is also a serious lack of understanding to study health science as part of educational qualification for sustainable social change to prepare young people for jobs in the health and well-being industry such as physiotherapist , medical representative, paramedics, nurses, rehabilitation consultant or sport sciences consultant.

As winner of Mr. Universe 2019, Soumya knows, the mass bodybuilding culture in eastern India is more than just getting a job as gym instructor or role in Bollywood movie or modelling for Pantaloon. It needs culture change. It deserves acknowledgment, encouragement and infrastructure support both at the state and district levels with public and private partnerships.The rich legacy of bodybuilding for the mass definitely needs a push to accelerate positive cultural change. And Soumya wants to be part of the change. He wants young people like him and future generations to compete every year in popular local and global bodybuilding and other strongman events such as Mr India, All India University, Mr Asia , Mr Universe, Mr. Olympia, World Body Building and Physique Championship ( WBPC) and Arnold Classic. It is time for Indian bodybuilders to learn the Western art of work/life balance and continue life long enjoyment of bodybuilding from countries such as Australia, Canada and USA. Such ideas, if different, need to be introduce to Indian subcontinent. Soumya says, “ It is a long way to go but it is time to take the steps in the right direction for Indian bodybuilding movement, culture change and global presence ”. He is happy that he allowed himself to dream as he sent me NPC BENGAL CHAMPIONSHIP digital poster with his photo (Registration is live https://bengalphysiquealliance.com/registration/)

“At least once a day, allow yourself the freedom to think and dream for yourself.”
Albert Einstein