Have you heard of Dr P J Sudhakar? He is Pranab Mukherjee’s unknown rival. Glory has a voracious appetite; the famous, born to fame and those who want to thrust fame upon themselves are all hungry for it. Sudhakar is running for president and is optimistic he will set a record of sorts: reaching Raisina Hill without the numbers for it. The man holds more records than a gramophone museum — the Guinness Book world record of 102 college degrees and 12 PhDs. He is the world record holder with the highest level of educational qualifications. India is World No 3 in the number of applicants for Guinness status, after the US and UK. From walking on water to singing upside down, from swimming with handcuffs on to breaking coconuts, Indians are on an overdrive to clinch world records never attempted before. Marco Frigatti, Global Head of Records, Guinness World Records (GWR), London says, “India was at 11th position in 2007 and this year it is third. This year we have already received around 800 applications, of which 28 have been approved to go before judges. It seems that the aspiration comes for want of global recognition and the ability to do something quirky.”
The Guinness Book is known to be the tome of peculiar records. It could be something as corny as making the world’s longest envelope — 39ft x 27ft made in 10 days by a group of 24 Aligarh Muslim University students — or genetic, like the case of Jyoti Amge, the world’s shortest woman. Or simply serendipitous, like Lata Mangeshkar, who has sung the highest number of songs — more than 26,000 — an unbroken record. Pride is glory’s cousin in this record spree: a feat unbroken for four years — a previous record of performing 33 dance flips a minute—was broken inadvertently by dance trainer Lourd Vijay along with his students Sneha, Vidya and Satyaki: 39 dance flips a minute. “When I was in Mumbai to judge reality shows, I was approached by the production team of Guinness to attempt various genres like street dance styles, social dance style and others. This is when the idea of breaking the record came about,” said Lourd Vijay.
India, a country not known for breaking records in sports or science, with the random exception of a Tendulkar, Dravid or Ramanujam, holds scores of Guinness records. No less than 157 men and women set records in 2011. Applications from India have grown nearly 400 per cent in the past five years and the number of record holders has grown by 250 per cent in the same period.
In some cases, there are records within records. Achariya World Class educational institutions, Puducherry, may well be the only educational institution with a record number of record holders. Collectively, its students have to their credit a total of 22 Guinness World Records, 22 Limca and Elite World Records.
G K Hemanth Ram, a Class VI student of Achariya Bala Siksha Mandir, attempted the record for the world’s longest cartoon strip and created a 201-m drawing. R. Abirami, a student of Class X, of Achariya Siksha Mandir, attempted the world record for the world’s longest yoga marathon (female) lasting 35 hours and 20 minutes. P Arunachalam, a Class IX student, created the record for males in 33 hours and 40 minutes. They wanted to create awareness about ‘health and yoga’. The record-making streak continued; S. Mohamed Nasrin, a Class VIII student created the record for the largest candy mosaic using 2, 65,000 different varieties of candies. Just setting a record for record’s sake — the longest tunnel kiln in Gujarat; a 28-year-old Indian woman eating 51 fire-hot chilies in two minutes — some students see their feats as a means to communicate a larger message. Vasanth Kumar created a 449-m drawing of environment-related pictures.
It’s a mosaic of records. R Priyanka, a Class XI student from Sri Sampourna Vidhyalayam, holds a world record for creating the world’s largest salt mosaic using different varieties of colours: she used 1,600 kg of salt for the 84 sq m creation to create awareness of child labour rehabilitation; 485 underprivileged children — mostly of single mothers — simulated the Dandi March, all dressed as ‘Bapu’, creating the record for the largest number of kids dressed as Gandhi. R. Karthikeyan, a student of Achariya School of Tourism and Hotel Management created a world record for the largest cookie mosaic — six hours and 500 kg of cookies; his message — don’t ask us how — preserve water resources. C Sarvinth, a 2nd year MBA student of the Achairya School of Business Management and Technology created the largest bean mosaic measuring 84 sq m. A Arjun Krishna Chaithanya created the world’s largest egg mosaic using 73,555 eggs in the shape of a red ribbon. He wanted to create awareness of eye donation. R Kural Aazhi, a Class V student created the largest seed mosaic within seven hours with horsegram, peas, white beans and rajma weighing approximately 1,850 kg. Two eyes were drawn on it with a caption ‘Give Sight’.
Planet Guinness has recognized Planet India as a veritable powerhouse of alien enterprises. In April this year, the GWR appointed Nikhil Shukla as their India-based official, making it easier for Indians to approach GWR to review their application. He has so far judged more than 10 records and thinks India’s cultural diversity is driving the growth in applications. “Indian participants are unique because some of the records are culturally relatable. For instance, breaking coconuts and singing of the national anthem to name a few. The other reason is equal division of applications between smaller towns and big cities. We have a nice and fair balance and so the number automatically multiplies,” says Shukla.
Seriousness is not a problem with record holders: 40-year-old C Suresh Nayak has a unique gift of memory: he can recall names by simply looking at the cell phone or unnamed telephone numbers in a diary. What makes Suresh Nayak’s talent heroic is the fact that he suffers from Down’s Syndrome—an affliction that affects cognitive ability as well as physical growth. Dr U V Shenoy of Kasturba Medical College, who has worked for most part of his life among persons with Down Syndrome says, Suresh is severely challenged (30 per cent) and his IQ (intelligence quotient) is below 30. His stint with Guinness started when his brother Umesh sent his name to Limca and Guinness.
As William Barclay said, endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory. Endurance is not a virtue the record holders lack. A paramilitary man from Bihar, Ajit Kumar Singh, grabbed the record for the heaviest vehicle to be pulled by the hair: a truck weighing 9,385 kg, on September 21, 2010. Singh was only required to pull the vehicle 5 m to break the previous record but managed 55 m. “I’m aiming to pull 18 tonnes by next year,” says Singh. Mangi Kishore Kumar is another truck-pulling aficionado. He towed an empty truck weighing 6,800 tonnes with his ears up to a distance of 5.2 m.
Ask them why the recognition is so important for them. Kishore says, “It’s all about proving to the world what you are capable of. It feels nice to see people recognising you for your effort.” Kumar has competition: martial arts expert Konda Sahadev set his first Guinness Record in 2007 by getting 10, six-tonne APSRTC buses to be driven on his fingers in a minute and 20 seconds. He had received a prestigious health fitness award from US President George W Bush in 2004. His second Guinness World Record was in November 2010; for pushing a 3,500 kg car on a high elevation with three people in it. In 2011, he created yet another Guinness World Record by pushing a 2,700-kg van for 1.6 km in under 12 minutes.
Since the ‘five-minutes of fame’ phenomenon has caught on to one too many, psychologists say it is here to stay. “The idea that something extraordinary is possible and achievable is attractive. Also the glory attached with it gets to people. Internally, the change in social system and the increase in competitiveness is also a driving factor. But people forget the process that such an achievement involves and the glamour is the only tangible factor for them,” says Monica Kumar, clinical psychologist and managing trustee, Manas Foundation, New Delhi.
Strength meets skill in the bizarre world of Guinness India: a group of 125 dancers got together to stage the Rabindra Nrityotsav on February 1, 2012; the audience was left spellbound. The 26-hour, 34 minutes non-stop dance marathon gave them a shot at entering the Guinness Book of World Records. Sonali Acharjee from Hailakandi, Assam choreographed and presented the composition to commemorate Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary.
Acharjee, who is now based in Hyderabad and is director of the Sonali Academy of Fine Arts says, “It took us about eight to nine months of preparation and the entire process cost about Rs 25 lakh.” Sonali has now been invited to perform at the Summer Olympics. A verifier from the Guinness Records, who also happened to be a member of the London Olympics Committee, saw her performance and invited her to perform in London.
If dance sets records, can martial arts be far behind? Midhun Jith set the world record for the most number of martial arts kicks in one and three minute categories. In a minute he made 310 kicks, and 619 kicks in three. The 23-year-old marine engineer is a 17-time national karate champion and had earlier broken the world record in his native town of Wayanad, but it had gone unnoticed. Based on the directive by a Guinness official, he was asked to repeat the act. “When I was 12, I saw the video of Fabian Cuenca breaking the Guinness World records for the most martial arts kicks (128 kicks),” he says. “After 10 years the record was not broken by anybody.” Midhun practiced continuously for six hours every day for over six months before he broke the world record.
Absurd feats abound: Bhannuprakash Chikka, 27, a software engineer from Hyderabad holds the record for the heaviest weight to be deadlifted by a fingernail when he hung 8.67 kg (19.11 lb) weight on his left-hand thumbnail in November 2012. Forty-year-old Keshab Swain holds the record for breaking tender coconuts. On February 29, he broke open 85 coconuts in just one minute. In July 2011, he broke as many as 250 green coconuts in eight minutes, 56 seconds and surpassed his own record of breaking 184 green coconuts in six minutes and six seconds a year earlier. In 2007, he broke 144 coconuts in seven minutes and 16 seconds and continued improving on his records every year. Now this Bhubaneswar native wants to set a new record for breaking watermelons with his head. “I want to break Australian John Allwood’s record of head-butting 40 watermelons in less than a minute,” he said.
Unlike Chikka and Swain, there are many inspirational stories too in India’s Guinness hall of fame. In a Konkani textbook prescribed for students of Class IX, a chapter on the life of 37-year-old Gopal Kharvi stands out. The poor fisherman’s son swam into history by setting the record for furthest swim wearing handcuffs. The winner of the Rajyotsava award, Kharvi is a talented sportsman. He spent nearly Rs 2.5 lakh, including the award money, to train for the record that made his villagers proud. Another sportsperson to establish a Guinness record is Kshipra Joshi, the captain of the Indian contingent at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Joshi’s feat was to stay upside down and perform 18 rotations in a minute. The gymnast says until she was approached by the Guinness officials to perform this particular task as she had no intention of enrolling into the book of records.
Obsession is a trait of collectors. In January 2009, Anil Bohora, 46, from Mumbai created the world record for owning the largest collection of banknotes. He currently owns 11,500 bank notes from over 300 countries. He started collecting when he was 18 years old. He also owns notes made of silk, jute, aluminum foil, leather, wood and gold and silver foils. “I have almost complete collection of banknotes made of polymer,” he adds. Bohora says his ultimate goal is to have at least one banknote of every country.
In the age of reality TV, the Guinness Book of Records was a sitter. Petite 26-year-old Sourobhee Debbarma from Tripura was the first female to become Indian Idol in 2009. In early 2011, Debbarma received a call from one of her friends at the production house of Ab Todega India, the Guinness World Record show in India. “My friend said you have to hang upside down and sing. Initially I thought she was making a fool of me. But when she told me about the record, I agreed to give it a shot,” says she. She was suspended upside down and after four trial attempts, Debbarma finally became the Guinness World Record Holder for attempting the feat of the longest time to sing suspended upside down. She sang for 4 minutes and 35.39 sec and created the record on February 11, 2011. “I did not tell my family and friends about the feat and surprised them with this achievement. They were quite happy,” she recalls.
For Ahmedabad-based Dharini Pandya, music is classical, and not pop. She practices for nearly 13 hours a day. The trained santoor player holds five Guinness World Records. The first is the longest concert by a group, a 62-hour feat completed by Pandya’s students, trained at her Pancham Academy of India. Soon after, Pandya successfully attempted the record of longest singing marathon by an individual by singing for 82 hours and 16 minutes. Within a month of her previous record, Pandya broke her own record in the same category by singing for 101 hours and 23 minutes at Vadnagar, Gujarat at the Tana-Riri Festival. Next was for the longest marathon playing santoor by an individual—nine different kinds of santoors from nine different countries for 29 hours and 29 minutes. Her fifth record was created last year where she conducted the longest sitar marathon concert performed by her student Renuka Punwani—25 hours at the Pancham Academy of Indian Music, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
As Pandya shows, the creative arts and the Guinness Book go together. C Vijayalakshmi Prabhakaran, art entrepreneur from Tanjore established the world record for creating world’s largest painting using coffee powder. Vijayalakshmi, who runs the Tanjore Art Gallery holds two other Guinness records: for creating a painting using five different kinds of seeds and another for using five varieties of beans. She produced the world’s largest seed mosaic—a hitherto unattempted record—and the largest bean mosaic.
Whether it be Sudhawkar, Pandya or Kharvi, records are set by ordinary people with a singular passion. Like Mumbaikar Mohsin Haq, 29, who holds the record for the longest continuous motorcycle journey within a single country. He set the record by covering 18,301 km, touring 28 states and four union territories in 56 days. Haq purchased a brand new Enfield Thunderbird and embarked on his momentous journey from Gateway of India on October 2, 2011. It cost him `5 lakh and he had to sell his record-making motorcycle to repay the loans he had taken.
The thirst to be famous and unique is driving more and more Indians to strive for the Guinness Book world records. With the Colors TV primetime show Ab Todega India, their popularity has become a phenomenon of sorts. India may soon set the record for edging out the US and the UK to be the record holder for the most Guinness records.
— With Bureau Inputs