A son of a drug addict is usually dumped in the same line - either out of compulsion or just the environment one if raised in. However, the story of Leishangthem Robert Meitei from Manipur is that of a man of substance, grit and packed with enough muscles to inspire.
"Being a son of a drug addict, I was stigmatised and discriminated. Even my friends were prohibited from mingling with me. I took on this social attitude as a challenge to prove that even a son of a drug addict can be an achiever," revealed Robert who took to body building to fight frustration. He had bagged the fifth position in the senior Mr. Asia 2018, held in Pune.
Right from birth, odds were heaped against Robert. He was born to a heroine user at the notorious border town of Moreh, infamous as a major transit point for heroine from Myanmar into India. Robert was brought up in a surrounding buzzing with the illicit drug trade with his area, Moreh Ward No. 3 being the hub.
Like many drug addicts who were hooked onto the 'king of drug' as heroine was known then, Robert's father Leishangthem Paka Meitei succumbed to his heroine addiction and died of an overdose. This was the point that changed Robert's life.
With his father gone, the family of six - mother and five siblings, all boys, were reeling in acute poverty. Fortunately, living adjacent to the border gate no. 2 between Myanmar and India, offered opportunities. His mother, L.Thaba Leima and eldest brother worked as cross-border coolies, ferrying out Indian goods to Namphalong market (Myanmar) and bringing in cheap Chinese products from the Myanmar into Moreh. This at least ensured the the basics to the family and the young kids were able to go to school.
His father's death was what showed Robert the dangers of addiction. During this crucial phase, Robert attended a motivational session with Arambam Bobby, the state's former Mr. World, when he visited Moreh in the year 1998. Inspired by Bobby, Robert took up body building as a profession and never turned back.
Deprived of a functioning gym at Moreh or the resource to buy weight training equipment, Robert went around collecting discarded iron parts of trucks and jeeps like cranks and shafts and made them his body building equipment.
Body building regime entails regular intakes of supplements. Ashamed to bother his mother and brother, Robert would work as a coolie after his school time and training. The money earned would then go in procuring supplements that would cost nearly Rs 5,000 per kg. To further enrich his daily diet, Robert grew fruits in his backward and reared about a 100 chickens for his consumption.
"Initially when I started, people laughed and mocked me saying all sorts of things, enough to discourage me. But I didn't let them bother me and kept at it. When my efforts translated into titles and medals, people's perception gradually transformed and they started regarding me as a role model."
Robert, whose life has now come a full circle after getting inspired by Arambam Bobby, said he is following his Bobby's path in helping people come out of their shell and achieve success.
"Now people look up to me as their role model. I'm invited to conduct motivation sessions with drug addicts and and families living with HIV/AIDS," said the body builder.
Besides several state, regional and national titles and medals, between the year 2003 to 2016, winning Mr. Manipur, Mr. Northeast India, Mr. Eastern India and best poser title in Mr. India in 2014, Robert stood 6th position in the 60 Kg Open Mr. World and 4th place in the Mr. Asia contest in 2016. The 5th place in the Senior Mr. Asia 2018 is his latest achievement.
Robert, who trains on his own on a regular bases, said, "There is no substitute for hard work. Body building is an individual game and the success depends on individual efforts."
Robert Meitei is father of two daughters and is presently working as the principal of a school in the hill district of Ukhrul. Robert's message to the youth of the country is to "eat food as medicine and not medicine as food."