MEET – Mr. India G. Ekambaram
There are times when you have to wait for quite a while to get something really valuable. The wait may extend to days, weeks, months or sometimes years! But, the moment you get what you wanted, it will be clear that it was all worth the delay.
I would compare meeting seven-time ‘Mr. India’ G. Ekambaram to this kind of a thing.
The delay in finalising a meeting was owing to several reasons – that both of us are employed full-time and put up over 35 km away from each other can be the most important reasons.
However, a meeting was fixed for August 31 and Srimathy and I finally found ourselves talking to this amazing gentleman in the privacy of his room at his residence in Tambaram.
TM: Oh…it has taken us over 70 minutes on two-wheeler to get to your place. Thank heavens, I didn’t bring my car or else….
E: It’s the evening [post-6.30 p.m.] rush hour Lakshmi…the traffic can be very stressful.
TM: Yeah, I’ll fire my questions right away because the very thought of riding back home scares me.
(Even as I was talking, Ekambaram’s daughter, Usha, joined us with a gentle smile and a couple of cups of coffee.)
Are you a Tamilian sir, I have seen you speaking in Telugu very fluently.
E: Of course yes, I am a Tamilian. I was born on July 15, 1957 in Sowcarpet, Chennai. I am very comfortable speaking Telugu because I worked in Hyderabad for several years.
Usha: He speaks seven Indian languages and is fluent in almost all of them (the proud daughter adds).
TM: Oh, you are a seven-time national champion and you speak as many languages. What a coincidence!
E: Wait…I have one more for you. My parents have seven children, including myself!
TM: Ha, ha, that will make it good reading for my readers sir.
Ok, tell us about your childhood.
E: I was very much interested in sports from a very young age. I loved playing football [soccer]. I got into boxing at the age of 14, thanks to my elder brothers who were all into boxing.
TM: Hmm…I can see it….your forearms, fingers, wrist, everything says that you should have been a rock solid champion who put fear into the minds of all his opponents.
E: [With a calm smile] I was into boxing till the age of 16. But, those were really the dark ages, I should say. A lot of ‘goonda’-like persons were into boxing. I still remember my last day at the game as if it were yesterday. It was my fourth match. Even as I tried to get into the ring, a man with a kind of sword stood nearby and threatened me not to harm my opponent. I got scared and …well…that was my last day in the ring.
TM: It’s very sad that such elements ruin the name of sports. But, boxing’s loss was bodybuilding’s gain, right?
E: Yes, I was quite strong and always doing some kind of exercise. So it wasn’t much of a big change or anything like that.
TM: I remember reading in Bodybuilding Master magazine (Tamil) that you trained at Mohan Gym.
E: Yes, that was the temple of bodybuilding which produced so many champions. Our coach was Mohanarangam, a man with a heart of gold. He has churned out so many champions. Your mentor, ‘Olympia’ Jai [K.P. Jayakumar], and I trained there.
TM: I was told that you two were good friends.
E: Great friends…ah, those were the days…though Jai and I don’t get to meet each other these days, if we sit down reminiscing that golden era, our eyes will be moist. He used to buy magazines such as Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder and Muscle & Fitness. He used to help me a lot with the stories published in those magazines.
TM: I am sure you would have been an easy gainer.
E: Yes, I gained pretty fast and was really strong. At the height of 5 feet 3 inches, I used to compete in 60 kg or 65 kg class and squat over four times my weight. Even now, I squat that heavy, once in few weeks.
TM: Of course, your current looks tell the story. How about your nutrition, was it really good those days?
E: We consumed a lot of chicken and red meat. The quality of eggs was too good those days and so we could get results even with 10 or 15 egg whites a day. I am shocked to see some big boys eating 40 to 50 egg whites [every day] these days and not seeing much change. Overall, the quality of food, be it animal protein or grains, has drastically gone down, thanks to pollution. And…ah, I also used to drink Protinex with milk every night.
TM: How many times did you train each muscle group? Can you recollect any of your old training routines?
E: Come on Lakshmi, it has been so many years…I can’t recollect all that…but, I used to train every muscle group twice a week. And come contest, I would do cardio every day for an hour.
TM: An hour?!!!!
Usha: He used to travel on his bicycle everywhere.
E: I used to bike all the way for over 20 km and come to train at Globe Gym, Nandanam, where I trained during the later part of my competitive career. ‘Mr. India’ and TABBA general secretary M. Arasu once told me that he and his friends would wait at Alandur level crossing to look at me going on bicycle to Globe Gym.
TM: Wow, sounds great, sir. Please tell us about your first title….how did you feel when you won it? And which is the most memorable of all your victories?
E: My first competition was 1976 ‘Mr. Madras.’ I won the title in short-men category. That is the most memorable of all my victories. I then won ‘Mr. Inter-club’ [which is something like ‘Mr. Inter-districts’].
I won ‘Mr. Tamil Nadu’ in 1978 at Kancheepuram.
TM: When did you enter your first nationals?
E: The same year , in Darjeeling. I placed sixth. I then placed third in 1980.
TM: You were then given a job in Railways, right?
E: [With a broad smile] You are not going to believe this, Lakshmi. I was given a job in Vysya Bank, Dunlop and Railways, all on the same day. It was tough to choose one of them. I selected Railways because I knew that the department would encourage me to train hard and help me move ahead in the sport of bodybuilding. I joined them in December 1980 and was posted in Hyderabad.
TM: How long were you there? And when did you get married?
E: I was there from 1980 to 1987. I tied the knot on August 31, 1984.
TM: Oh, so it’s your wedding day today? Our warmest wishes to you and your wife. Sorry that we are taking up so much of your time on a special day.
E: No, no, no, nothing of that sort, Lakshmi. I took my family to temple in the morning and spent some time with them. I love talking about our sport.
TM: Please continue… when was your first ‘Mr. India’ victory?
E: That was in 1987. I was second in 1981 and was also first in ‘Mr. Asia’ selection trials in 1985. I won the nationals till 93. I participated in ‘World Amateur Championship’ [‘Mr. Universe’] held in Kula Lumpur in 1991. I placed fourth in ‘Mr. Asia’ that year. I kept competing even in Masters Division and won another national title in 2004. I finally retired in 2006.
TM: Has there been any meet in which you were given a raw deal?
E: I can point out at only one – the ‘Mr. Asia’ held in Colombo in 1985. I was pushed to sixth. Look at the pictures I have here. Do you agree with the placing?
TM: [In disbelief] No way! I have you finishing in top three. That’s very unfortunate.
E: Yeah, that happens….you have to learn to swallow bitter pills.
TM: Anything you would like to say about your competitive days?
E: I was told by one of my friends that I have won ‘Mr. India’ seven times, placed second 13 times and third, three times. That makes it an awesome 23-time top-three finishes. I myself couldn’t believe that when my friend told me about this.
TM: Holy cow! That is one hell of a record. Ok, just a few more questions…please tell us about your children.
E: My daughter has finished college and is taking care of my gym [Mahesh Fitness Centre]. She is well-read and very much interested in fitness and bodybuilding. My son [Mahesh] is all set to become a pilot. He is in his third year and a great student. He has also participated in a few district-level competitions and won some prizes, but I don’t want to put pressure on him to compete.
TM: Your message to our youth…
E: Believe that you can train and win without the use of drugs. Now you have great food supplements and lot of training information which weren’t available during our days. You just need confidence.
People like me are looking good and training hard even now only because we took good care of our bodies.
TM: Thanks a lot for giving us so much of your time on a special day like this, sir. We will always cherish the time we spent with you.
Even as Srimathy and I rode back home, we were caught in a downpour. The windscreen of my helmet was missing and it was painful to ride the bike with rainwater hitting my eyes like missiles. But, the pain and discomfort bothered me the least because I knew that the interaction I had with Ekambaram and things I learnt were priceless.
_ C. Lakshmi Kumar