Have you ever considered replacing your breakfast toast with a tube light? Would you like to wash it down with a little kerosene? No? But there are enough people out there who want to do all that – and more. That’s why the Guinness Book of Records has been in publication since 1955, and that’s why it became a big TV show (the Indian version is currently on air on Colors). That’s also why, in India, the Limca Book of Records which was launched in 1990, recently brought out its 22nd edition.
So why do ordinary people want to touch highs in areas that most people wouldn’t even dream of getting into – for instance, eating glass, or singing upside down? Three reasons, say experts. It can be an ego boost, says Dr Dherendra Kumar, clinical psychologist, Apollo Hospital, Faridabad, and head, Psy India Foundation. "It also creates an adrenaline rush," he adds. "And it comes of a need to make a mark by doing something completely different and offbeat."
In India, we’re good at the offbeat, and what’s more, we’re good at being good. "What never fails to fascinate is the drive, the tenacity and the belief in themselves that sets apart the people who are out to break records," says Arthy Muthanna Singh, senior editor, Limca Book of Records. "It’s quite humbling, actually." It’s an indomitable spirit, adds Ashvini Yardi, head of programming at the entertainment channel Colors. "That spirit lets them overcome all fears and attempt death-defying tasks to establish a world record."
Five record holders tell us their stories.
Flames of glory
At least two hours a day, 30-year-old Jitender Mehra does something that not many people can warm up to. He breathes fire.
The Chandigarh man is a flame thrower and the holder of the Guinness world record for ‘most flames thrown from the mouth in one minute, without refuelling’. In the first international face-off on Guinness World Records – Ab India Todega, Jitender blew 48 flames from his mouth in a minute, beating Hubertus Wawra from Germany.
Once, he did odd jobs, working as a waiter, a sweeper, a labourer in an iron factory. Today, he’s the pride of his country. "Fire is my life, my life revolves around it," says Jitender matter of factly.
But haven’t his lips ever burned? Doesn’t kerosene taste repulsive?
Jitender chuckles. "I have never had to visit a doctor and I have developed a taste for kerosene," he says. "I have practiced for hours and days. My circumstances made this my interest. But then the interest became a passion."
Jitender had to drop out of school after class 6, due to family problems. "We were never well off. My father ran a gas agency, but he fell from the roof when I was 14 and was bed-ridden. So I had to fend for my family and think of my younger sister’s wedding," he says.
Jitender started work at an iron cutting factory when he was 15. And that’s where, probably, he got used to the heat of fire. "I was becoming tougher, physically and mentally," he recalls.
A wage-earning adult by day, Jitender became a boy at night, hanging out with his friends around a fire, roasting potatoes. "One day we realised the fire was going out and there was no kerosene," recalls Jitender. "I said I’d whack it from a neighbour’s verandah.
Not finding anything to carry it in, I put it in my mouth. When I returned, I signalled a friend to bring a coal close to my mouth so I could exhale the kerosene and light the fire. My eyelashes were singed, but something about that night stayed with me."
A few days later, a friend asked Jitender if he was willing to participate in a show where he had to walk on charcoal. "I was told I’d be paid R350," he says. "That was a lot of money then, so I decided to go. The act was very well received but when I came back and my mother saw my feet, she was mad at me."
He swore never to do anything like that again but an offer to throw flames for Rs 500 was irresistible. "I realised I had something special and that only if I did something different could I make it big for my family," says Jitender. So he perfected his act.
Jitender’s TV debut was the show Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, but ...Ab India Todega became his trump card. "It’s a great feeling to break an international record," he says.
And just for the record, Jitender says he has outdone his own record of 48 fire blows with 115 in a recent practice session. "I love the colour of fire, it’s my life," he says.
As a little girl, she sometimes hated her journalist father for pushing her into learning Kathak at the tender age of six. Today, Vidha Lal can’t thank him enough. She is still receiving congratulations for the Guinness world record she set for ‘Most Kathak spins in a minute’ –103 in a minute, to be precise.
It looked beautiful, but wasn’t she knocked down by dizziness? "No," says 28-year-old Vidha. "It’s the result of years of practice, and your body gets used to it," she explains. What she is not used to, however, is the kind of response her record has generated.
"Some people in the arts fields are really happy and proud; a few others probably think it’s odd to dance to set a record," Vidha says. "What I think is most fascinating is the simple fact that an art form like Kathak gets an important platform. I mean, I am sure a lot of people didn’t even know that spinning is part of Kathak."
She wasn’t very fond of the discipline of Kathak when she began learning, but after 10 years of practice and performance, Vidha was hooked. "I was 16 when I went to Europe to perform as a professional," she says. "It wasn’t easy getting a visa at that time, and there I was, on a professional visa when I was still in school. Also the show got me a lot of appreciation. That is when I think my passion for dance was really born. Today I live breathe and sleep dance. It’s my life."
Vidha credits her guru, Geetanjali Lal (later to be her mother-in-law), her husband Arjun Lal and her son for her dance accomplishments. But she also believes that a complete stranger is responsible for her discipline. "I was practicing one day when somebody commented that I was a lazy dancer. That really hit me and from that day onwards, I pushed myself all the time," Vidha says.
Practicing constantly, Vidha realised she was good at chakkars (spinning). "It’s an art to balance your entire body when you spin, but once you learn and master it, it’s magical." Heels over head
The only thing Sourabhee Debbarma ever wanted to do was sing. Any way, any how. And that’s why and how the Tripura girl, winner of Indian Idol 4, and MBA student at Symbiosis, Pune, became the holder of the Guinness world record for singing the longest while suspended upside down.
Suspended from the ceiling, Sourabhee sang for an amazing 4 minutes, 35.39 seconds. She broke a previous record for this act, held by Rebecca Wright from New Zealand who sang for 3 minutes and 52.47 seconds.
"I guess it’s a mind game," says Sourabhee of her unusual record. "When the channel Colors asked if I’d be interested in breaking a previous record by singing upside down, I took it casually. The fact that it was something to do with singing is the only reason why I thought I’d give it a try." Since she had to send a video of her performance to the channel, Sourabhee asked a friend to help hold her upside down while she sang. "I could manage a little, but I had a horrible headache the rest of the day and couldn’t sleep well," recalls Sourabhee.
When she woke up, however, the headache was gone and she realised she was attracted by the task. "I’ve always aspired to do something different, so I thought of it as a challenge. Surprisingly, I managed to actually shoot a video and send it."
Before she knew it, Sourabhee was in the show. "I decided to concentrate only on my singing and not on how I felt. I consciously kept calm and focused. You learn how to fight fears," she says.
But why accept this challenge when she’s already making her name as a singer? "Even I didn’t know I had this streak in me," Sourabhee says. "My friends thought I was a very boring, ordinary girl. But the record has helped me get in touch with my adventurous side." A glass apart
Pathesh Talukdaar’s menu is pretty much the same as most people’s. But there’s a regular addition to his diet that’s a little peculiar. Pathesh also eats glass. In fact, the man from Assam recently set a new Guinness world record for ‘fastest time to eat a glass’ (1 minute, 26 seconds).
How on earth can anyone eat glass? It’s an unusual story, says 36-year-old Pathesh who likes to crunch on a tube light or a bulb for breakfast. ("Tube lights are my favourite," he says. "They’re nice and crunchy, like papad.")
Pathesh says he was always attracted towards "different, unusual tasks." When he was 11, he remembers, he was angry with his family and walked out to cool down in the jungle. He was hungry, but there was nothing to eat.
Then he observed the cows eating grass. "So I tasted the leaves and the bark of trees for the first time in my life," he says. "Then I noticed a glass bulb lying in the bushes and decided to taste it as an experiment. And I realised that I could digest these things without discomfort."
This gave him a strange kick. So Pathesh decided to stay on in the forest and keep experimenting. For 14 days, he ate leaves, tree bark, bulbs, blades, and bricks – anything he could lay his hands upon.
When he went back home, his parents were worried – and shocked – at his accounts of his meals. They rushed Pathesh to a doctor who, strangely, found that he was absolutely fine.
Over the years, Pathesh found he was most fascinated by glass. "I think it’s because of its glittering property," he says. "I eat glass regularly. My system takes as long to digest glass as it takes for normal food."
Though Pathesh runs a small business, he often holds shows for admiring crowds. But the show he is really proud of is his record-creating one. "I ate 100 gm of glass with 1.5 litres of lemon juice in 1 minute, 26 seconds," he says. "The allocated time for this task was three minutes. Imagine how lucky I am!"
A conservative family background, a career as a homemaker for 10 years and a full time mother to her two sons, an additional career as an accountant for three years… 35-year-old Aditi Singhal sounds rather ordinary. But she isn’t. She’s an author, a motivational trainer, a genius mathematician and a human computer all in one.
Aditi Singhal set two records in The Limca Book Of Records in 2010. She wrote a 13-digit table in 1 minute, 13 seconds. And her second record saw her memorise 210 binary digits and recall them with 100 per cent accuracy. As the numbers were flashed on the computer screen in sets of six, she memorised them in 2 minutes, 26 seconds and recalled them in sequence in 2 minutes, 32 seconds.
Till about three years ago, Aditi had no idea she could do this. "I liked maths in school but I never thought too much about it," she says. In fact, she graduated in home science from Lady Irwin College, Delhi. "I come from a conservative background. I knew I would be married off soon," she says.
Not that she was opposed to the idea. "But I didn’t realise how the years passed by," Aditi says. "I loved cooking, doing up my house, being a good wife and daughter-in-law."
One day, her pharmacist husband told Aditi that he thought she should do something more with her life. Because her family was opposed to her working, he suggested that Aditi help him with his accounts.
She agreed. Then one day, she chanced upon a book on Vedic maths at a book fair. "I was told it would help speed up calculations," she says. "I found it fascinating. Soon all I wanted to do was calculations. I would sit up till 2 am doing calculations!"
Then her husband persuaded her to hold classes in Vedic mathematics. They were a huge hit. "If I look back, a lot of things fall into place," says Aditi. "I really liked maths in school. I also remember that, as a child, I’d look at the numberplates of cars in the rear view mirror of our car and do mental calculations."
Addicted to numbers again, Aditi signed up for a workshop on memory building. Soon, she was holding such workshops herself. In May 2009, she made it to the India Book of Records as ‘best memory trainer.’
But now she wanted to do something unusual. "I wanted to achieve something extraordinary and that is how the Limca records happened," Aditi says. "But frankly, I’m not satisfied, I want to achieve more, a Guinness record maybe."
5 Tips to enhance your memory
Visualise things in your imagination. What we see registers for longer than what we just hear. Try to visualise things in an odd way, because our minds remember strange things better.
The brain doesn’t sleep when we do. It just reorganises information registered during the day. A disturbed sleep pattern means your brain’s reorganisation time is also disturbed.
Drink water to eliminate toxins from the body. Eat fruit to provide the brain with glucose so it can work. The preservatives in junk food damage the brain’s memory cells.
To retain information longer, revise it first within 24 hours, do a second revision within a week, then revise the material every month.
Try Blissful Neurobics twice daily for 10 minutes. Visualise violet rays entering your head and spreading into your body via ‘gyan mudra’ (tips of index finger and thumb joined together, other fingers straight) and tongue folded and touching the palate. Exhale with a humming sound.
- From HT Brunch, April 17
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