We may have won just one gold medal at the last Olympics, but Indians have already set 23 Guinness World Records in the first half of 2010.
The most recent was set by Air Force Squadron Leader (Retd) Jayasimha Ravirala (43) of Hyderabad. It was his fourth record, which he won on June 20, by typing out the entire English alphabet in 5.03 seconds.
A month earlier, a 69-year-old Delhiite became the man with the most flags (199) tattooed on his body. He topped that record two weeks ago, adding a 200th flag, this one on his crown.
So what drives people to perform such feats? Their reasons span from 'why not' and 'it's fun' to 'because I can' and even, believe it or not, Shakespeare.
"Shakespeare said a scholar should have three qualities: emulate those who came before, execute his learning in his own style and, finally, experiment and take his learning forward," says V. Sreenathachary (39). The assistant professor of English from Mehboobnagar, Andhra Pradesh, recently won the Guinness World Record for the world's longest book title. His book of idioms has a title that starts with Handy Crystals and continues for 1,086 words, making it three times longer than the previous record of 301 words.
THE FRINGE BENEFITS
Of course, there's more to be gained than mere satisfaction. For one thing, there's fame. As Sreenathachary puts it: "I come from a rural area, but I've been interviewed more than 500 times, even by BBC and Wall Street Journal."
In the case of Jacob Aruni (35), there was "brand recognition". In March, the freelance chef broke the record for the longest barbecue marathon, cooking 485 dishes in 24 hours. "I got my own Wikipedia listing after that record," he says.
"When I found out that the record for the longest video-game session was 24 hours, I felt I could do that," says Mumbaiite Chirantan Patnaik (27). Last September, the finance professional played Grand Theft Auto IV for 40 hours and 20 minutes, winning a record for longest gaming marathon. And he got more than a kick out of it — he now writes a fortnightly column on gaming for a Karnataka daily.
According to Professor Vinay Lal, who teaches history at Delhi University, it's part of the middle-class obsession to overwrite the colonial view of India as a nation of under-achievers.
In an essay titled 'Indians and the Guinness Book of Records — The Political and Cultural Contours of a National Obsession', Lal argues that though it may appear that record-setters are surrendering to the rat race, their coming up with bizarre records is a comment on it as well, subconsciously reflecting the ethos of non-surrendering.