London, United Kingdom – Rakesh Kumar believes it is God that enabled him to earn his place in the record books by lifting heavy weights with his ear.
The proud 32-year-old from Ludhiana, Punjab, heaved 82.60kg to gain a Guinness World Record – and now he hopes to add to that by pulling a minivan with the skin around his eye.
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“I am so crazy about records – and I wish that through my efforts my country becomes a shining example,” he told Al Jazeera. “I did it for my country, for my parents and for myself. I couldn’t learn this anywhere – it is God’s grace.”
The experience of Rakesh and thousands like him, reflect what Craig Glenday, Guinness World Records editor-in-chief, said is a deep human urge to better ourselves – often in weird and wonderful ways.
“It’s an innate human need to push yourself, to be better and to expand your horizons, and the way to do that is by beating records – by seeing what’s gone before you and then besting it,” said Glenday.
One of the most important things that you can do in life is challenge yourself and push yourself beyond your basic needs - because this makes you more aware of yourself, of the world, and of others.
First published in 1955, the global authority on record-breaking achievement – which has sold more than 132 million copies in more than a 100 countries – unveiled its 60th anniversary edition on Wednesday.
Explosion of interest
And nowhere is the ambition reflected on every page of the book more in evidence than the Middle East and South Asia, where Glenday said there has been an “explosion” of interest in record-breaking.
“There is huge ambition in that region, and in the Middle East in particular, especially places like the UAE,” he said. “As these areas have twigged and understood the power of Guinness World Records they’ve harnessed it.”
A host of inspiring, breath-taking, quirky and sometimes death-defying new entries are included this year across categories such as entertainment, sport, science, engineering, nature and space.
They include 24-year-old Californian Nick Stoeberl, who has the world’s longest tongue (10.1cm); Karsten Maas, a 49-year-old from Denmark who created the world’s longest usable golf club (4.37m); and circus artist Nancy Siefker, 26, from California, who shot an arrow the farthest using her feet (6.09m).
There are also many longstanding records that have stood the test of time. One of Glenday’s all-time favourite records was held by Lee Redmond of Salt Lake City, USA, who had the longest fingernails on both hands (total length 8.65m) until a car accident in 2009 robbed her of her record-breaking assets.
Middle East and South Asia
A key development in the book’s remarkable history has been the growing profile of the Middle East and South Asia, where combined book sales have hit 50,000. Sales are up 69 per cent in the Middle East on last year’s edition – with a staggering 90 per cent growth in Egypt.
Keen observers will note important differences in record-breaking in these regions.
In the Middle East, for example, big is beautiful. The UAE has the tallest building (Burj Khalifa, 828m), the tallest residential building (Princess Tower, 413.4m), and the tallest twisted tower (Cayan Tower, 307.30m).
Saudi Arabia boasts the airport passenger terminal with the largest roof, the largest tensile roof, the largest automated parking facility – and even the highest tennis court.
In South Asia, by contrast, dense populations tend to bring to the fore individual achievement – or anything that can single out someone as outstanding, from the weird to the wonderful.
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For example, India still has the man with the longest moustache, Ram Singh Chauhan (4.29m), and has clocked up a raft of sporting achievements, particularly in cricket, with Sachin Tendulkar holding a raft of unbeaten records.
India is also excels in mass participation events such as the largest barefoot walk (7,050 participants), the largest religious crowd (30 million), and the greatest number of people singing the same anthem (121,653).
It was the scene last year of a record-breaking gathering of people dressed as the great man of peace Mohandas Gandhi (2,955) organised by the Sowdambikaa group of schools in Tiruchirappalli.
School director Premalatha Sellappan told Al Jazeera: “We thought we should celebrate World Peace Day and wanted to talk to the children about what exactly we mean by peace and how inner peace and world peace are connected.”
Consciousness-raising of this kind – with a canny understanding of modern PR – is often at the heart of record attempts.
Gravity Zone in the United Arab Emirates wanted to raise awareness about extreme sports as well as the campaign against breast cancer by organising the most bungee jumps outdoors in 24 hours – achieved by Colin Phillips of the UK – at the Dubai Autodrome.
Ramez Shawky, Gravity Zone managing director, told Al Jazeera: “It’s not something that you see every day – 24 hours continuous bungee – and it definitely put bungee jumping as an extreme sport on the list of attractions that Dubai is offering.”
Women record-breakers in the Middle East and South Asia are also challenging men on their own terms.
In my childhood I thought that someday in my field I will have to do something to touch the world. I wanted the world to take notice of my country because it is small - and it did.
Tashi and Nungshi Malik from India, for example, became the first twin sisters to reach the summit of Mount Everest in May 2013, reaching the peak with Samina Baig, the first Pakistani woman to complete the climb. Iran retains the record for the first female space tourist, which was achieved by businesswoman Anousheh Ansari in 2006.
Countries that one does not immediately associate with record-breaking are also making it on to the global radar.
In Afghanistan, the International School of Kabul clocked up a record for the longest chain of paper dolls (6,590m), and Dhaka in Bangladesh makes it onto the record sheet for the most cycle rickshaws in one city (500,000).
But one thing most records everywhere share is that behind all of them is a story of human belief in the power, literally, to change the world.
Guinness World Records editor Glenday said: “One of the most important things that you can do in life is challenge yourself and push yourself beyond your basic needs – because this makes you more aware of yourself, of the world, and of others.
“If we are all thinking that same way, then surely the world can only be a better place.”
Champika Shirani Siriwardana, 36, embodies this belief. As a child in Sri Lanka, she dreamed of doing something incredible one day – an ambition she achieved in 2013 by organising a record-breaking wedding involving a staggering 126 bridesmaids.
“In my childhood I thought that someday in my field I will have to do something to touch the world,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I wanted the world to take notice of my country because it is small – and it did.”