A peek into the inspiring life of Dr Ngangbam Shantikumar Meetei from Manipur
From a cow herding village boy to a university professor and finally becoming a world class body building athlete, Dr Ngangbam Shantikumar Meetei’s life story is one that will inspire people of all ages.
He was born to a poor and landless peasant family from Uripok, Baspati Leikai under Imphal West district in Manipur. He had nine older siblings. His parents, late Ngangbam Shelungba Meetei and late Ngangbam Ongbi Angoubi Leima, moved from one place to another in order to provide for the family. Most of his childhood was spent at Kanglatongbi, a small village along the Imphal-Dimapur National Highway where his parents worked as tenant farmers.
When he was 6 years old, he did what he could to support his parents. He used to take cows grazing in foothills and riversides, in and around the village. Every evening, while returning back, he used to carry a bunch of dry wood on his head. He would also bring back any vegetables like Loklei and Pulei, whatever he could find growing in the wild.
‘I had no warm clothes to cover my back during the winters. I did not even have a pair of shoes to wear. We had a milk giving cow but could not drink the milk because it had to be exchanged for rice,’ shared Dr Shantikumar. Despite many challenges, he got through primary school.
When he was 12 years of age, two of his brothers were earning as carpenters and were staying at their married sister’s house at Naoremthong, Imphal. They brought him from Kanglatombi and admitted him at Rural Institute, a government school at Tera Sapam Leirak, where he studied till matriculation. Till date, he wonders how his life would have been very different if his brothers hadn’t helped him. ‘My two brothers are my angels.’
After completing his schooling, he pursued English from DM College of Arts. During that time, he had also started bodybuilding. He trained for six months under his master, Mr Maipak. In 1989, he graduated with the support of his brothers. Even the family was still fighting a daily battle against struggle, he still wanted to pursue his higher education which pushed him to crack the national entrance test that led him to JNU, Delhi. Life at university was a daily struggle but he was a fighter. ‘Many a times, during my time at Jawaharlal Nehru University, I had to go to bed on an empty stomach but I made sure to never go to bed without studying.’
He pursued his MA, M Phil and PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru University. In the first two years of his masters, he got help from his two brothers, but since they were poor and supporting their own families, Dr Shantikumar stopped asking for help since he didn’t want to bother them. ‘During those days, my name was always at the top of the eviction list because I could not even pay hostel mess fees, which was just a sum of Rs 400-500 a month.’ To make ends meet, he started doing part-time jobs. He worked at the airport where he earned about Rs 100 to Rs 200 for the night shift, he also worked as salesman selling products and sometimes he worked as an English tutor which would pay about Rs 80-100 for an hour. He also started working in gyms. He worked for money, but sometimes he got milk instead of money from the gym managers. He never complained.
The last year was especially difficult but his wife Chen Nan-Tai Chaningleima, came to his rescue and helped him financially. For the last ten years, he has lived in Taiwan with his wife and four lovely children, two girls and two boys namely Cheche, Nanao, Bem Bem and Bung Bung.
The Rise of the Athlete
Till date, he has won a total of 22 international medals including 13 gold, 6 silver and 3 bronze medals. In 1999, he represented Taiwan in Mr Senior Asia Championship and made history by becoming the first Manipuri to win Mr Senior Asia. Imphal-based newspaper, Poknapham Daily had honored him with the title ‘Meetei Nongsha’ (Meetei Lion) after the win.
When he represented Manipur and lifted the Mr World title in 2013, the people of the State honored him with the title ‘Kanglei Athoiba Mapari’ (The great son of Kangleipak). In 2014 and 2016, he became the first Asian to win the Natural Olympia titles, the most prestigious title in the field of bodybuilding as an amateur and Elite Professional athlete respectively.
‘My children and I are very proud of my husband. I am also thankful to the people of Manipur for supporting and loving my husband all this time,’ said his wife Chaningleima.
A Clean Game
Dr Shantikumar is also an international judge and is the working president of both International Natural Body Building Association (INBA) Taiwan and INBA Asia. He wants to promote natural body building and fitness sports in Asia to help people of all ages stay healthy and avoid steroids, hormones, drugs and other unhealthy illegal substances.
‘I have never ever used steroids, hormones or other illegal chemicals and I am strictly against the concept of using such harmful substances for the sake of some medals.’
With a strong will to promote the same idea in India, he hosted the first ever INBA’s national level natural bodybuilding and fitness championship in Imphal, Manipur on July 28. It was a platform for all athletes to compete drug free.
During this event, he showed deep concern for the deteriorating condition of Manipuri youth drowning in an ocean of drug abuse. ‘Drugs and steroids make one strong and bulky but it is temporary. Once the intake stops, the body will become like a punctured balloon. On top of that, it has many side effects including degradation in liver and kidney functions. Many have been killed because of these side effects which can even lead to heart failure.’
Dr Shantikumar has already organized three state level championships in Manipur. He even named the recent championship after his master and legendary bodybuilder Mr Maipak, as a tribute.
Dr Ngangbam Shantikumar Meetei is a true athlete, and has proved his skills time and again. His legacy will be carried by his two sons Bem Bem and Bung Bung who have already won gold medals in Junior Fitness Championship at the XlX(19th) Mr Natural Olympia organized by the INBA PNBA (International Natural Bodybuilding Association, Professional Natural Bodybuilding Association) in Las Vegas.
Written by Reena Nongmaithem
Photos: Reena Nongmaithem