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Record book craze: why India knows no limits

What's making us cook a 342.5kg baingan bharta, playing guitar on top of Mount Everest or die trying to cross a river hanging from a pulley by our ponytail? We bring you why India is obsessed with making weird world records.

brunch Updated: Dec 07, 2013 17:02 IST
Aayush Soni

Anand Bansode didn’t have much fun growing up in Solapur, Maharashtra. His father was a motorcycle mechanic, he was the only brother to three unmarried sisters and he consistently failed subjects at school. A temporary escape from everyday drudgery was a construction site not very far from the family’s 10x10ft home. Here, Bansode climbed mounds of sand, a small achievement that was a preview of a more admirable triumph to come.

In May last year, 27-year-old Bansode scaled Mount Everest, but he didn’t stop there. Well aware that hundreds had conquered the summit before him, he decided he needed something to set himself apart, something unusual. And so, 20,669 feet above sea level, with cold winds biting into his tired limbs, and a few Sherpas and his mountaineering team as witnesses, Bansode pulled out a special lightweight guitar and began to play. started with the national anthem, followed that with film songs and strummed for 15 minutes, qualifying him to seek a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing music at the world’s highest place on land. "This was my way of showing the world that, no matter what the hardship, there’s potential in everybody to do something special," Bansode said.

His feat is certainly noteworthy. But it represents something bigger – a long-held and still growing obsession among Indians to see themselves in the record books. In 2011, India made the third highest number of record applications to the Guinness World Records, and last year the UK-based records company appointed Nikhil Shukla as the head of operations for India.

To most of us, this may seem unnecessary. After all, we have won a cricket World Cup and more than just one Olympic medal. We have Twitter, YouTube and reality television to make us famous. It’s 2013. What’s making us cook a 342.5kg baingan bharta, getting 1,056 people to open umbrellas simultaneously, bring together one lakh uniformed employees to sing the national anthem together, or die trying to cross a river hanging from a pulley by our ponytail as Sailen Nath Roy did as he attempted to break his own record in April this year?League of extraordinary Indians

Much of our obsession with Guinness, Limca, Unique, India or any record-keeping entity has to do with the backgrounds of the aspirants. The majority of them are Indians who get buried under the collective sheen of Twitter handles, Facebook likes and Instagrammed photos. They live in tiny cities and don’t hold fancy degrees. But theirs is a league that’s harder to get into than Harvard, an IIM or an IIT. And their bragging rights come not from an eight-figure salary or a tony address, but from a certificate that’s as dear to them as their lives.

"When newspapers call and ask us about record holders, we actually have a problem giving names of those from the big cities," says Arthy Muthanna Singh, a senior editor at the Limca Book of Records. "I think in big cities, it’s kind of passé. But if you’re a record holder from a smaller place, you become a local hero or heroine. It inspires everybody else and then, we get many applications. It’s a good thing because this is supposed to be India’s best, not just the [best of the] metros."

That the record books are democratic in their display of achievers adds to their appeal. Small-towners like Anand Bansode get as much real estate in the Limca Book of Records as public figures like Abhinav Bindra (the first individual gold medal winner at the 2008 Beijing Olympics) and MS Subbulaxmi (the first musician to be awarded the Bharat Ratna). "Earlier, we had to scout all over the place to find record holders and record setters," Singh says. "Now, thanks to the Internet, we get approximately 25,000-30,000 applications every year, of which about 6,000 make it to the record book."Group dynamics

It isn’t just individuals who are responsible for those numbers. In September 2011, Greenpeace India collaborated with the Le Méridien hotel in Delhi to create the world’s heaviest baingan bharta. The move was part of a larger campaign to protest against the introduction of the genetically modified BT Brinjal. Some 500kg of organic brinjals, 50 chefs and half a day later, the world’s heaviest bharta was cooked in front of 500 people at Dilli Haat. "It was both a protest and a celebration," says Rajesh Krishnan, the lead campaigner from Greenpeace. "A protest against efforts by the government to wipe off our varieties of brinjals and a celebration the nearly 4,000 varieties of brinjals that we have in India."

For other organisations, the phrase ‘setting a record’ is a good enough euphemism for publicity. In summer 2011, when skincare brand Neutrogena decided to launch its sun protection range, Ultrasheer, they ditched the usual product placements and fancy launch parties. Instead they rounded up 1,056 people at Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex to create a mosaic of open umbrellas and drive home the point of sun protection. The existing Guinness World Record for the largest umbrella mosaic was held by Serbia, which included 1,026 people. Neutrogena just had to go marginally larger to sneak past the Balkan nation. "We rehearsed for three days before the event and at least five to seven times on that day before actually performing for the record," said a source who was part of the organising team at the time.

For Sahara India Pariwar, a Guinness record was yet another way of reinforcing their patriotic identity. On May 6 this year, the company got 1,21,653 of its employees together in Lucknow to sing the national anthem simultaneously, at one location. Why? To break Pakistan’s record for the same feat.

Odd records

* Subhash Agarwal holds the Guinness World Record for the maximum number of RTI applications.* In Rajkot, 24,435 couples shook hands to create a Guinness World Record for the most number of handshakes simultaneously.

* In Dimapur, 368 musicians performed a song to break the previous Guinness record set by 250 guitarists in England.

* Kapil Gehlot of Jodhpur pulled a 1,046kg Hyundai Accent car tied to his beard to a distance of 68.96 metres in 7min and 28sec on July 3, 2011. He has a place in the Limca Book.

* Jyoti Chindak of Belgaum, Karnataka, made the longest link with 500 butterflies in 2012. She used ceramic powder, foam sheet, paint and fine stone lace for the butterflies.

* Sucheta Kadethankar of Pune became the first Indian to walk across the Mongolian Gobi Desert, in 2011. She completed the 1,609km trek in 51 days, 11 hours and 40 minutes. She was among the successful seven of the 13-member international expedition team.

Ticket to fame

Individuals, on the other hand, have a different agenda when they put their efforts into record-setting and breaking. Mumbai’s Dr Rakesh Sinha realised that a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records is as good as bagging a degree from an Ivy League college. Sinha, who has been practising for 27 years, holds the Guinness World Record for removing the largest fibroid from a uterus. reason he applied for the record in 2000 was because he felt that Indian surgeons are underrated internationally. A few years later, Sinha was invited to Singapore’s KK Hospital to showcase his fibroid-removal skills. In front of 100 wide-eyed doctors and with a team of seven assistants, Sinha performed a laparoscopic surgery to remove a fibroid that weighed 1.1kg. The physician says the award helps create confidence in his patients – a reputation no amount of money can buy. "If I was asked to choose between a million dollars and the Guinness World Record, I’d choose the latter," he says.

Mumbai resident Shashikant Khanvilkar is in the 2008 Limca Book of Records for an unusual talent – of blowing into a comb and using it like a mouth organ to render instrumental versions of traditional Maharashtrian songs. "After the record, a lot of journalists interviewed me, which made people look at me with a different perspective," he recalls. "It’s a bit like if two people are walking together and one of them is wearing a suit, everybody will notice him over the other one." For Khanvilkar, a farmer’s son who grew up in the BIT chawl near Mumbai Central, the record is more than just a piece of paper. "It is like a degree," he says. "Every artist has a desire to be in the Limca Book of Records because it’s not easy to get in. So once you get in, you feel like you’ve achieved something in life."

How to get into the record books
* The Guinness and Limca Book of Records accept applications online and for free. The Limca Book prefers hard copy applications.

* Once Guinness receives the application, they will send information packs titled ‘Evidence Required’ and ‘General Info’, outlining the documents needed to be submitted.

* For a fee, record holders can hire a Guinness World Records adjudicator to authenticate their records. The Limca Book will require you to authenticate your record claim by a gazetted officer, school or college principal.

* Once the application is received, Guinness World Records takes six weeks to assess it for an existing record and 12 weeks to assess the application for a fresh one.

* There are no cash rewards for record setters or holders. But the Limca Book of Records offers a 30 per cent discount on the cover price of the book.

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From HT Brunch, December 8

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