264. . .265. . .puff! gasp!! 310. . 311. . . this is James Joseph of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, doing his squats in a corner of the Limca Book of World Records office. His aim? – setting a world record in squats. In front of James a large stopwatch ticks away the minutes. Behind him stands Kuldeep Monga with a score sheet keeping a tally of the number of squats. A doctor sits on a chair nearby, looking bored. A photographer is busy clicking away and a video camera is whirring.
In the midst of all this activity the staff of Limca Book work quietly at their jobs. For the staff it is, ho hum, just another day at the office.
Another day. Shamsher Singh of Ropar, Punjab, walks in looking like Rip Van Winkle, nearly tripping on his beard. His claim — the longest beard in India. So I take out the tape measure and measure it from chin to tip: 1.83 metres.
Welcome to the office of the Limca Book of Records. A book of Indian facts and feats, it is the Indian version of the Guinness Book of Records. Vijaya Ghose is its Editor and the rest of us a rag bag of researchers and editors. I worked here for a long time.
The office bears scars of people setting their marks. Once Hemant Patel of Nadiad, Gujarat, came and did the static wall press or Samson’s chair (you sit with your knees at right angles and with your back to the wall much like you pretend to sit on a chair) for 10 hours and 30 minutes. After he got up a large chunk of plaster came away sticking to his back!
The Limca Book was launched in 1986, the brainchild of Ramesh Chauhan, owner of Parle, the Indian softdrink giant. He wanted a book that will make people proud to be an Indian. He wanted a one-stop reference book that would feature anything on Indians or on India covering all extremes: that is the greatest, smallest, widest, tallest etc.
Though India has a civilization dating 5,000 years, data has never been systematically kept. It is only in the last 50 years – after India’s independence – that people have started maintaining records. Moreover, the country is so vast that comparable statistics have always been difficult to come by.
We stepped in to fill this gap.
Initially we didn’t know where to start. So every day for three hours there would be a brainstorming session. We would first start with alphabetized sheets. Against each alphabet we would then take an idea and find a superlative (biggest, smallest, tallest, etc) question. For example, if the letter is ‘B’ and the word is ‘Bank’, we would throw up questions like, when was the first bank in India built? Which is the largest/smallest bank (area-wise, customer-wise)? Which bank has the maximum branches (in a city/state/all India)? And so on.
This data bank of questions was quite comprehensive. We would follow it up with letters to the Ministries, libraries, organizations, asking them for details. Finally, we compared all the details and arrived at an answer.
When the first edition was published, it had a tremendous response. People appreciated the idea and started writing to us. Letters came from all over the country. These would say all sorts of things like: I can stand on one leg. I can bend my little finger so it touches my wrist. I would like to climb Mt Everest, how do I do it?
All these were human achievements and we needed to be careful how we went about verifying these records.
So we drew up a detailed set of rules. We even tested it in-house to check the degree of difficulty. We agreed for example, that for a record to be accepted it has to be competitive. This means that some degree of difficulty must be involved but it should not be impossible to do. The catch is in making an impossible-looking feat possible and making it interesting for others to try and beat it.
For example, Manoj Karthikeyan of Tamil Nadu wrote a letter saying he can eat 50 chillies in a minute. We decided to check the degree of difficulty. Prasanna, who is from South India, was our office mascot. A man who had an empty sack for a stomach, he would eat anything thrown at him. He was also built like a bodybuilder.
He had earlier broken an office desk trying to break Karate boards. (These are wooden boards used by Martial Arts experts to demonstrate their skill). The board was resting on two desks pulled together to support it. In his excitement he kicked at the board, which flew out and his leg thwacked the edge of the desk.
We asked Prasanna to eat as many as he could from a tray of Andhra chillies, in one minute. These are a variety of very spicy chillies. A glass of milk was nearby to aid Prasanna, swallow his mouthful. As the timer depressed, Prasanna set off. He stuffed 6 at one go: chomp, chomp, chomp. Slowly his eyes started trickling. He drank a mouthful. 16. . 17. . .18. . And that was all he could manage before he collapsed. A jug of milk and four mango shakes were needed to wet his mouth.
The office was great fun. Working for a soft drink company, we used to time each other on who could finish a bottle the fastest. In the melee, half the drink would end up on people’s shirtfronts.
But it had its serious moments too. Each of us met many people, each important in his own way: scientists, doctors, agriculturists, businesspeople, bankers, sportspersons or just people like you and me. I learnt and saw a million things – about the Shaking Minarets; Kite Museum; verified the largest motorcycle pyramid; seen a full movie shot in 24 hours; traveled on the toy train; and done so many other things.
For each piece of information on India you count on your finger, there are five astounding human achievements. Achievements by ordinary people. Like the cook who set a world record in vegetable cutting. Or when Hawa Singh of Haryana walked in with a spade. A gardener by profession, he wanted to set a record. So, was it to be a floral chain record? Or planting the most trees? No he quickly whipped up a garden spade and without wetting or lathering his face, shaved off his week’s growth of beard! Neat and clean and not a speck of blood on his pink cheeks!
What makes these people tick? Doing something as harmless as standing on one leg for 65 hours seems easy. But can you do it? Impossible. But A or B or C can and they do it to prove it. It sets them apart. It makes them stand head and shoulders above the rest. For, it takes a certain frame of mind to do something no one else has done, to set a target, persevere and accomplish it. A frame of mind not all of us possess.
So are you an achiever? Do you want to set a record that no one else has done? Why don’t you try some of these out? Set a record in apple or potato or eggshell pealing? Pack the most people in your car or motorcycle? Drive around India in the shortest time? Balance the largest number of coins? Or if you are into collecting, collect the maximum number of stamps? Or bells? Or shoes? Or hats. . . Or just write to the Limca Book of Records?