Muscling through obstacles

- September 14, 2022
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Beyond the gym and training centers, bodybuilders face challenges within the four walls of their homes and self traits that act as hindrances in their journey to fulfill their dream. Here's delving into their lives

Coach Harmeet Singh (in blue) keeps Ikdeep Singh (in the center) motivated and plays an important part in his life.

Bodybuilding as a profession attracts quite a following though its practitioners face societal challenges and financial difficulties. Some start really young – Patriot met one who started at the age 13.

Menka Bhatia, 28

Menka Bhatia is a 28-year-old bikini fitness model. Although she started working out in order to stay fit, the potential of bodybuilding as a career was spotted by her trainer. “From childhood, I just wanted to fly high and create a name for myself. When I realised that I want to go into body building professionally, I achieved a lot in a span of one year”, she says.

Bhatia started her career as a bodybuilder in February 2021 and never looked back. Over time, she has achieved both national and international prestige and won awards such as Miss Universe IFBB and Miss World Uzbekistan (WBPF). In addition to this, she has won 20 gold medals in deadlift and 11 gold medals in bench press at a state level which includes Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, among others.

Also Read: Defying all odds, bodybuilder Harmeet Singh proves age is just a number

In bikini modelling competitions, participants have to show their toned body with some muscle development in the upper and lower body, which is then followed by a ramp walk in a bikini. A relatively unknown category of bodybuilding in India for women, it has its own challenges. The very nomenclature puts people off: Menka faced a lot of societal backlash when she started on her journey.

Menka overcame all the challenges she faced during her journey as a bikini fitness model

“There were a lot of challenges when I started. A woman in a bikini is something that people would not want to see in India. In the beginning, my family threw me out of the house because of the nature of my job. I started living on the terrace and ate boiled chicken to stay fit for 20 days because I had no other provision. But, when I won the first competition and got recognition, I was accepted by the family. However, society still sees the profession as something lowly. I just tell myself that I cannot change it”, she says.

Bhatia has found that marriage proposals dry up when all the cards are laid on the table. Some of her relatives and neighbours look down on her. However, she emphasises that she garnered a lot of respect from people who saw her performance as part of the profession.

“Look, I don’t even know how famous I am. Everybody knows about me and this gives me so much confidence and sense of honour”, she says as an autowallah recognizes her and makes small talk about her performances.

In the industry, she says that she faced a lot of harassment because of which she has taken a break – and sometimes even thinks of ‘switching’ career. “During the competitions, I was touched at places about which I was not comfortable”, she says.

Elaborating on this, she explains: “In the competition in Pune, the bouncers raised their hands on women performers. I have filed a complaint against this. But there seems to be no justice. If I continue playing because I have all the tags, this will create a bad image for other young players. They will feel unsafe and unmotivated. As a senior professional, it is more important for me to protect the honour of young models than to win a medal.”

Bhatia currently owns a gym and trains emerging bodybuilders. She hopes to create a community of bodybuilders that make the image of the profession safe and welcoming for women.

Yogesh Deval, 21

Yogesh Deval started working out due to medical complications but soon found a reason to continue as a professional bodybuilder. Coming from a small village near Badaun in Uttar Pradesh, he saw the young generation of his homeland ruined by addiction to drugs and other harmful supplements.

“I want to start my own gym in my village so that people there can understand how important the body is for a person. A lot of them have succumbed to addiction and it makes me sad to see them in such condition”, he says.

In fact, it was when his younger brother was caught smoking that the idea of starting a gym occurred to him. “I was furious, totally taken aback. He was very young and innocent. I don’t know if he still does it but I know this is serious. A gym will help these youngsters a lot”, he adds.

Yogesh Deval wants to start a gym to help the youth that’s gradually succumbing to addiction

Although there is another gym in Deval’s village, it remains closed most of the time. The gyms in nearby towns are not accessible to villagers.

His initial profession was quite different: he came to Delhi 5-6 years ago to work as a Quality Engineer in Maruti Suzuki. Due to a medical complication, which he says could never be diagnosed, he collapsed during work one day. After this incident, he never went back to the company, and instead, helped his father in his vegetable shop.

“I wake up at four in the morning and make rounds of vegetable supply. Then, I help my father in his shop. By the time I am free, I have to go to the gym. I come back and help my father again”, he says as he explains his daily routine.

Asked whether lack of money comes in the way of a bodybuilding career, he says, “A lot. My family does not support me at all, saying that this is a profession for rich people. Whatever I earn, I spend on working out.”

He recently won a gold medal in a local competition and hopes to keep going on his own steam.

Ikdeep Singh, 13

Ikdeep Singh is 13 years old, an unlikely age for bodybuilding. He started working out as he saw his father’s dedication to it. “I would go to the gym to see my father and I would see that people are so fit! This motivated me to start gymming myself. I wanted to stay fit and look good in my outfit”, he exclaims.

Although Singh works out to stay fit, he has recently won a gold medal in a local deadlift competition. When Patriot asked about the criteria of the competition, Singh was clueless. “All of this is taken care of by my coach. I just focus on myself and do not know the rules of the competition – except for what my coach tells me. There were of course people way older than me, but it did not intimidate me because I did not care about it”, he says.

Singh emphasises that his coach, Harmeet Singh, keeps him motivated and plays an important part in his life. Harmeet himself started as a professional bodybuilder at the age of 35 and faced a lot of challenges: from social stigma to workout difficulties. This may also be the reason why Harmeet understands Singh’s motivations so well. “He is amazing and always looks after me”, Singh says.

Singh does not view bodybuilding as his career. He claims to take care of his studies equally and will decide about it once he reaches the right age.