Monday, September,3 2007 (New Delhi)
Radhakant Bajpai did it by growing his ear hair more than 12.5 centimeters long, Vadivelu Karunakaren did it by skipping 16 kms in 58 minutes and Arvind Morarbhai Pandya did it by running 1,500 kms backward in 26 days and seven hours.
India is a land obsessed with superlatives, especially the kind that get you into the Guinness World Records book. In India, a Guinness record is the stuff of national headlines.
"Orissa man claims a record for cracking open 72 coconuts by elbow!" a leading newspaper, trumpeted last month. "Uttar Pradesh boy can write on mustard seeds!" said a headline in July.
The paper has run over 50 stories this year about bids for world records, and it is by no means ahead of its competition.
And this is just in from another highly respected daily: "Man looks to set world record pulling vehicles with mustache."
Why the fascination? India, after all, is awash in genuine superlatives - world's largest democracy, world's largest youth population. Why bother with fastest to drink a bottle of ketchup?
Guinness Rishi - yes, his name is Guinness; more on that later - submitted the ketchup record after downing a bottle in 39 seconds. The Guinness company has yet to accept his bid.
Rishi said he breaks records - his business card lists 13 feats - to distinguish himself in one of the world's biggest crowds.
"People consider me an extraordinary person, not an ordinary person," he said.
India, holding 219 Guinness World Records, is only 10th on the list. The US has the most, followed by Britain, Australia and Germany.
But for sheer obsessive enthusiasm, and ingenuity in dreaming up new superlatives, India seems unbeatable.
The explanations are various.
In the new India, more people than ever are earning prestigious degrees and staggering salaries.
However for millions who don't have access to such routes for success, aiming for world records, no matter how ridiculous, provides a much-needed outlet in a society as rigid and hierarchical as India's, say Rishi and other world-beaters.
After all, India's widespread poverty and its caste system, though not the all-determining forces they once were, still make social boundaries hard to crack. Harder, perhaps, than breaking a world record.
"Persons who have no money wish to do something in their lives, so the poor people try to break records by their strength or their will," said Rishi, a 66-year-old partner in an auto parts factory.
His crowded bookshelves are filled exclusively with record books from years past. He also hires himself out as a consultant to would-be record breakers.
No one captures Guinness mania better. Rishi changed his first name from Har Parkash to Guinness after earning a record for being part of a team that kept a motor scooter in motion for 1,001 hours.
He says he's broken more than a dozen records, but the Guinness company has not yet accepted any others.
To have a role in winning the record for oldest adoptee, he adopted his 61-year-old brother-in-law. He built the world's tallest sugar cube tower at 163 centimeters.
Rishi is so passionate about Guinness that he wrote in his will - the longest will in the world, of course that he wants his record books used as the kindling at his cremation.
Rishi says his two sons have successful careers abroad, and they don't think much of the Guinness obsession. But their accomplishments make Rishi more determined to prove that he counts, too.
"My children feel that they are more important in the field of business and moneymaking so I have to show the family and the community that I am a professional person," he said.
Some see broader explanations for India's peculiar relationship with Guinness.
Santosh Desai, a columnist with The Times of India, another newspaper that covers Guinness bids like political campaigns, says it's an example of India's hunger for Western approval, a defining trait in a country racing to achieve superpower status.
"We are desperate to be acknowledged by the world as being worthy," Desai said. "We hunt for any signs that the external world recognizes us, and then we celebrate them."
Even if it's, well, Bajpai's world-beating ear hair.
The Indian Express, a well-respected newspaper, called Bajpai "a proud man who has brought hairy recognition, not only to his locality and city but to the whole nation."
In their zeal for posterity, some in India have taken the Guinness obsession to dangerous extremes.
In June, a doctor couple in southern India boasted that their 15-year-old son had tried to become the world's youngest surgeon by delivering a baby by Caesarean section - a procedure they proudly filmed.
All three are now awaiting trial on charges of endangering human life.
Last year, a four-year-old boy attempted to run a 70 km race to earn a spot in a local record book. Doctors stopped the child after 65 kilometers and found him to be undernourished and anemic.
His coach has been arrested and charged with torturing the child.