Some might consider getting all their teeth pulled out a terrifying prospect. But not Guinness Rishi, nee Harprakash, who holds two Guinness records, and wants to see his name appear as many times as possible in the record book after which he has renamed himself. "I thought one day I can break the record of having the maximum number of straws in the mouth," he says. "So, I had all my teeth extracted. With practice, I managed to put 555 straws in my mouth, and broke the world record."
Rishi first made it to the Guinness Book two decades ago, for riding 20,000 km around India on a Luna moped. He has since sent in a wide variety of claims, 47 of which languish unaccredited. Among these are records for the fastest ketchup drinking, longest domain name, longest valid will, longest non-stop brick carrying, longest distance curry/pizza delivery, most chillis eaten in three minutes, and most blank pages in a published book. Also, strangely enough, the largest bra. His enthusiasm is infectious. Even his wife, Bimla Rishi, has now earned a record for the shortest will, consisting of two words in Hindi, which mean 'All to son'. "If you want to get into the Guinness Book," he muses, "you need lots of money, a very big team, stamina, or prove yourself a mad person!"
A large number of Indians are more than willing to do that, often with less success than Rishi. Just this June, a surgeon from Manaparai in Tamil Nadu encouraged his 15-year-old to wield a scalpel on a pregnant woman's stomach, in a bid to make him a record-breaker. In March, a Coimbatore-based 18-year-old killed himself when he feared he wouldn't make it to the book for his feat of performing 153 backhand push-ups in a minute.
Psychologists say the Indian craze for making it to the Guinness Book could be because it's one way to make a name for oneself in a country of a billion people. It could also be the desperate need for a boost of self-esteem, especially among young Indian men who are unemployed or don't have the educational qualifications to make it big professionally, that makes them go to such extreme lengths in their record-breaking attempts. But there's no denying that the more outlandish and audacious the claim, the more likely it is to get noticed. "'Strange' is a tricky word to use at Guinness World Records," says their London-based press officer Amarilis Espinoza. "We prefer different, ground-breaking or unusual claims."
Browsing the Guinness Book database should further encourage aspirants to exercise their imagination. Apart from records that sound like quizzer trivia, like the Indian Railways being the world's biggest employer, or the Khardung La being the highest motorable pass, the few Indians to make the grade did so by getting wildly inventive. Such as 'Snake' Manoharan of Chennai, who can 'floss' a small cobra between his nose and mouth, and earned a record for chowing down 200 earthworms.
Young Navneet Singh from Rohtak would like to invent a new category altogether: one-hand clapping. When he shakes his wrists, they make the sound of wet laundry flapping in the wind; an attribute that's earned him appearances on TV shows and the Germany-based Alternative Book of Records. Though the Guinness and even the Limca Book elude him, he's going to persist in trying to get in. "If something is possible, people should accept it," he says. "Like Newton, I'll change the way people think."
Ten-year-old Kasirajan from Pondicherry is equally ambitious. "First I'll get into the Limca Book, then the Guinness, and then I'll become an ias officer," he says. An avid roller-skater since he was three, he has been trundling across stages in the country, performing Bharatanatyam on skates, depicting themes ranging from Independence to power-saving and aids awareness. Though Kasirajan doesn't have any competitors, his father, Saravanan, thinks innovating even further would help his chances. "We'll try other combinations, like roller-skating Bharatanatyam with pots on the head." He has already enlisted the help of a folk dancer to train his son.
Blindfolded clay sculpture-making is an equally unusual feat that V. Selvakumar, a potter's son from Cheyyar in Tamil Nadu, has devised to get into the record books. "I've done the Seven Wonders of the World, and next month, I'll do 100 sculptures in 24 hours, showing the history of mankind from prehistoric times to today. All I need is a sponsor," he says.
Seshu Babu, on the other hand, just needs a quiet spot in which to stay still. He covered himself in a thick layer of silver paint and stayed frozen for 35 hours in an eerily convincing impersonation of a Gandhi statue. Though this has gotten him into the Limca Book, his ultimate aim remains to get into the Guinness. His claim is still being processed, and next month he plans to better it by beating his own record at Delhi's Andhra Bhavan. "Every person wants their name highlighted, and only some can do this by showing their ability to others."
About 1,000 record claims flood into the Guinness Book's London office every week. And at least 4 per cent of these claims come from India. Amongst them, about 95 per cent are rejected outright because, as its editor Craig Glenday says, "They're too stupid, too dangerous, not impressive, too boring, or too weird." Nevertheless, hundreds of Indians, like Guinness Rishi, have their faith in what they see as an all-inclusive, gratifying forum. "Each sport has a federation and a world record," he observes. "But some don't have any associations to help recognise them. You can be a champion ketchup drinker, but there's no ketchup-drinking club! There's no organisation for standing on one leg, and no federation for running backwards. But the Guinness Book of World Records will accept all this."
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