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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Reaching For The Guinness

The officially declared desire to go for the record must itself be a kind of record.

Written by Alok Rai | Updated: June 20, 2015 8:59:13 am
yoga, International Yoga Day, yoga, Yoga Guinness records, Guinness Book of Records, Guinness Records, Guineas Book, yoga world record, india yoga Guinness Records, world record,  world Guinness Records,  Guinness Book Records,  Alok Rai column, Narendra Modi, bjp government, modi government, ie column, indian express column Preparations on full swing at Rajpath, which has been covered with Yoga mats ahead of International Yoga Day. (Source: Express photo by Oinam Anand)

In 1951, as a consequence of an entirely inconsequential argument during a shooting excursion — which is the fastest game bird? — a Guinness executive realised that there was no resource available to which reference could be made to settle the argument. Canny marketing man that he was, he soon realised that, evening after evening, night after night, in pubs across Ireland and beyond, there must arise similar inconsequential arguments — fuelled by the stout that it was his business to sell. Thus the idea of the Guinness Book of Records was born, the ultimate resource for people who wished to claim, and argue over, foolish records.

The Guinness Book started small, as a complimentary giveaway, but soon became a phenomenal (and continuing) commercial success. It was initially put together by two brothers — the McWhirters, Ross and Norris — who were famous fact-grubbers. In 1975, Ross was shot dead by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, an event whose cultural significance compares with the killing of Shardha Ram Phillauri, author of the ubiquitous bhajan, “Om Jai Jagdish Hare”, by an enraged Muslim fanatic.

The Guinness Book of Records occupies a special place in Indian life. Popularly known as the “Guineas Book”, it represents the horizon of aspiration for a variety of normal, everyday cranks. For the anonymous millions who are marooned in the mundane — dust unto dust — the Guinness Book of Records offers an accessible way of reaching out for recognition by the “world”, because of course the Guinness Book of Records is, officially or otherwise, the Guinness Book of World Records. It provides a hospitable context for their extreme antics — eating rosogullas or, if you are a Bihari parent, pushing your two-year-old to clear the medical entrance exam. A claim to the Guinness Book is duly preferred and, provided the antic is sufficiently extreme and obscure, duly granted. And instantly there is cause for celebration in some teeming mofussil backwater.