I can never forget the experience of watching ‘Mr. India’ and ‘Mr. South Asia’ S. Kumarananthan for the first time on television.
It was about 15 years ago…as a kid just out of high school, I was blown away by the young Kumar (then ‘Mr. Tamil Nadu’ and ‘Mr. Chennai’) when he demonstrated exercises on a programme titled ‘Deha balam’ (‘body power’ or ‘strength’) on Golden Eagle Communications Network (now Star Vijay TV).
For a kid who knew no other bodybuilder but Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kumar was as an eye-opener of sorts.
‘Wow, are there people in India who really look this great,’ I wondered. To this day, every time I look at Kumar, he makes me feel the same way.
I am really proud that I now have a chance to introduce this legendary champion to all my readers.
Team Masters: Do you remember I came to Globe Gym about 10 years ago asking for your pictures? You said that you need a little time to get me some copies. Today I am not leaving your house without the photographs.
Kumar: (With a heart-warming laugh) Of course sir, I will give you an entire DVD of all my pictures. It’s all yours.
TM: No ‘sir’ business, Mr. Kumar. I am just Lakshmi for all my friends. However, you are no friend but my first idol. Though I know a lot about your earlier days, you may tell me about all that once again for the sake of my readers.
K: I belong to a small village called Polambakkam near Madurantakam. Our family settled down in Chennai several years ago. My father, S. Santhalingam, was employed in Metropolitan Transport Corporation. Now he is no more. My mother is Bala and my wife, Malathy. I have a son who is in Standard IV and a daughter who is 11-months old.
TM: I remember reading in ‘Bodybuilding Master’ magazine that you were always into sports and a kabaddi player, right?
K: I was a State-level player in several sports, athletics, high jump and long jump. I started weight training during my school days to gain strength for sports. But, my body responded extremely well and I soon discovered my true passion, bodybuilding.
TM: I was told that you started training in Men’s Field Gym and then trained in Sun Gym for sometime.
K: Yes…I am thankful to former President of Indian Bodybuilding Association M. Kesavan for allowing me to train in his Globe Fitness Centre for so many years. He encouraged me a lot and I also cannot forget former Secretary of Tamilnadu Amateur Bodybuilding Association Thanigaivelu. My long-time training partner Kannan ‘sir’ is another special person in my life.
TM: Of course, I remember that 65-year-young man who demonstrated weight training movements along with you in ‘Deha Balam’ programme. He was too incredible for his age! How is he now?
K: He is settled in the United States. He continued his training and even won some local bodybuilding competition over there. He is right now in Chennai for a week. My god, he still looks awesome!
TM: Tell me about all the titles you won.
K: The first victory was ‘Mr. Chennai.’ I then won the title six more times. I have won a total of 22 State-level titles.
TM: Holy cow! That seems to be a record by itself!!! Which was the first Nationals you entered and what did you place?
K: It was in 1988 and I ended up in top 6. I kept knocking at the door and finally won in 2001. Meanwhile I won Mr. South India in 1994,95,96 and 97. I also won the overall in 1997.
TM: The first Mr. India win came in Kochi, I remember. The first place winner was disqualified as he failed the dope test and you won the title, right?
K: I worked harder and proved that my victory was not a fluke. I once again placed second in 2002. But I won in 2003, 04 and 05.
TM: I heard that there were a lot of problems in 2006 Nationals held at Darjeeling. Would you mind telling me what happened there?
K: I can never forget the Darjeeling fiasco… I weighed 59 kg and 200 gm on my electronic scale. I was in amazing condition and would have won hands down in my usual 60-kg category. However, the weight machine used there was that good-old round piece of contraption, which should not be used to weigh bodybuilders. It showed over 60 kg and I had to walk and sweat it out for quite sometime. After I squeezed out more body water and urinated, that machine showed as if I had gained 1 kg! I told the authorities concerned that it was sheer nonsense and I would not compete in 65 kg category. I came back to my room and was upset. I blew up my diet, ate some crap and went to sleep. I later received an instruction that I had to compete in 65 kg category and would not be allowed to withdraw! That was a lethal blow. Had I been told this earlier, I would have cut water, dieted and posed hard. I ended up looking a little watery in 65 kg category and placed third. I later felt that had I dieted, I could have even placed second or something. But, it was too late.
TM: You were runner up in 2007 Nationals held at Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, as well. What do you say about that placing?
K: It’s up to you people to say, I never comment about judging. I came back in top form and won the Nationals held in 2008 at Meerut. I was runner-up in the second Nationals held in Aurangabad.
TM: Yeah. I remember a friend of yours telling me that you had just turned father again at that time and a lot of things were happening in your life…that’s understandable. Besides, nobody can doubt your potential. You have won even international glory for our country, right?
K: (With a calm smile) I was fourth in 2002 Mr. Asia that was held in Korea. I placed third in 2002 Mr. Commonwealth and seventh in 2002 World Amateur Championship (Mr. Universe) held in Egypt. I won gold in 2003 Mr. South Asia.
TM: I am at a loss of words to praise your achievements and your down-to-earth attitude. I was also told that after all these international triumphs, Integral Coach Factory, where you are employed, honoured you with the ‘Best Sportsman Award.’ I believe you are the first bodybuilder to win this.
K: I am thankful to all of my fans, judges, friends and officials who have encouraged me throughout my preparation.
TM: And, what happened to the Quatar (Doha) Mr. Asia? You were a legitimate contender for the title…
K: It was very painful that Indian Body Building Federation split at that crucial time. A stay order was obtained from the court and none of us could leave the country. We were ripped and ready to catch our flight when the news broke out. It was like all effort, sweat, blood, tears and hard-earned money were flushed down the drain in one second…I can never forget that moment…
TM: I can feel that soreness inside you even as you speak today. But tell me why didn’t you compete in this year’s Nationals held in Kolkata? Will you compete in the Commonwealth scheduled to take place in India next year?
K: We have not been getting increment for a couple of years. For every big title we win, we are entitled to get such benefits. I can get ready for any major contest and pass the dope test with flying colours, but what about the cost? Consuming quality food and hi-class supplements becomes inevitable. Bodybuilders don’t get contracts like other sportsmen such as cricket, tennis or football stars. This leaves us poor…I don’t see any fun in spending Rs. 20,000 or Rs. 30,000 a month for a couple of months [to prepare for a major contest] and taking home a fraction of it as prize money. We should at least get what we spend…for that to happen, bodybuilding should come to the mainstream. Our champions should be respected and their hard work appreciated. From my side I am trying my best to popularise weight training and bodybuilding lifestyle. I give free demo [guest posing], distribute photographs and speak about the benefits of weight training wherever I go. But, what can just one man accomplish? All our iron warriors should also play their parts well…let’s hope that day isn’t far away.
TM: Do you still train each muscle twice a week?
K: Of course…I haven’t changed anything. My diet is also the same. I consume egg whites, gruel [made of nuts, grains and pulses], rice and a lot of vegetables. I eat lean meat a few times every week. During contest preparation, I consume 70 per cent calories from protein. I depend a lot on egg whites and protein powders. I do cardio only pre-contest and not in the off-season.
TM: Do you have any suggestion to improve the sport?
K: Not to improve the sport, per se…but, I will say all contests should be organised only during one season – throughout February and March. That will mean we have the cool November, December and January to go through brutal pre-contest training and dieting. Getting a natural tan will not be a problem.
By having more than one city, district and State meet in February and March, the competitors who did not place well in one meet can always enter another. Those who place well or even win can forget the next show coming up and prepare only for a bigger meet like the Nationals. This will leave us with an off-season of almost one year to build our bodies. We can get better every year. This is my humble suggestion.
Think about it, if meets are organised in July or August, we will be forced to get ready in May and June. That heat will not allow us to train with 100 per cent intensity. We will feel too drained.
TM: Before we call it a day, what message would you like to give our readers?
K: Work hard and stay disciplined. If you are a competitor, feel confident that you can win without resorting to shortcuts. Just give your body enough time and rest it needs to grow from brutal workouts and good nutrition. You will achieve great success.
TM: Your good friend ‘Mr. India’ M. Arasu and you were the last of senior bodybuilders who competed long after several young freaks vanished from the scene. It just shows that one has to respect his body and not abuse it in any manner. Your longevity in the sport is testimony to the fact that you people take enough care of your health and not just cosmetic appearance. I hope young competitors learn to respect their bodies from senior players like you. Thanks a lot for giving me so much time.
Tailpiece: Even as I started my car, Srimathy of Team Masters who was also present at the interaction and snapped a few pictures, screamed, “Hey, you look terrible in these pictures man. Your big eyes are less than half their size…lack of sleep gives you a pathetic look despite the size gains made this off-season. It’s time you thought about what Kumar said regarding rest.”
I couldn’t speak because I knew too well that my daily schedule would hardly give me more time to rest or sleep. That’s the irony.
_ C. Lakshmi Kumar