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What the oddballs do

There are people who devote their lives to the pursuit of records. From sleeping with scorpions to eating glass, they do it all

We live in a strange world where eccentrics and oddballs are out to establish new records, not for some glorious individual achievement, but for things which a sensible and level-headed person would dismiss as silly and of least importance to mankind. A few years ago, I read in snippet in a newspaper saying that a man in Thailand spent 28 days shut up in glass house with 1,000 centipedes for company. Of course, the very thought of keeping such creepy-crawly company sends a shudder down one’s spine. But the sole motive of this crazy guy was to be one up on his girlfriend who, equally crazy, had earlier spent almost the same length of time locked up in a room with hundreds of deadly scorpions as her fellow inmates.

Although this Thai man had endured several dangerous bites by the centipedes during his 28-day cohabitation with them, he was said to be very happy because his ‘extraordinary feat’ had won him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. What is it that impels some people to indulge in such pursuits — pursuits which, to you and me, do not seem to have any rational purpose behind them? Living among nor mal human beings, we can understand their aspirations. If, for instance, a scholar in some language wants to be the best in his discipline, if an athlete sets his sight on winning a medal in Olympics, if a space scientist strives to achieve path-breaking success in his field, and if a classical singer aspires to rise to the lofty heights of his art, we take all these as normal urges of normal human beings.

Different antics: (Top) Thai man who endured several poisonous bites of centipedes; (Above) Babas smoking ganja sleep on beds of nails or contort their bodies Photos: afp/ Alewis2388 CC BY 3.0

But when we across someone who has allowed his fingernails to grow till they start dangling from his hands like the aerial roots of a banyan tree, or when we encounter a chap who is simply dying to prove that his moustaches are the longest in the world, or when we have to tolerate a chatterbox who is proud of having established a record in nonstop speaking for 15 days, or when we see on TV a devotee of some deity rolling himself like a log of wood all the way from his home town to some temple in the hills, we are apt to look askance at him.

Strangely, the outlandish and the bizarre find their devotees almost everywhere. We have often heard of crazy Johnnies gobbling up pieces of glass or metal, just as a child enjoys munching his chocolate bar, without coming to any harm. Then there are those who, as if to prove that the urges of their cave-age ancestors are still rip-roaringly alive inside them, enjoy guzzling live mice, lizards, cockroaches, and a variety of other such creatures. Ugh! Just to see them doing so on TV can make one’s gorge rise.

Sometime back on TV channel, I saw an old man, living in a village of Madhya Pradesh, whohad made sand a part of his daily diet. To demonstrate how he did it, he took a plateful of sand and started eating it with great relish before the camera. Strangely, his children standing around him regarded it as some kind of medal-winning achievement. They boated their old man was used to this appetising snack right from the days of his youth.

A visit to one of our holy places always keeps us in mind of those matted-hair, ash-besmeared, ganja-smoking holy men who have a penchant for the bizarre. Some of them proudly claim to have created an unbeatable record of sleeping for the longest possible duration on a bed of up-standing nails. Standing on one foot for a couple of days or keeping an arm stretched up in the air for such a long time that it begins to wither, or practising an ‘asana’ that requires one to possess the skill of a contortionist – all these come easy to these holy men. By the way, for how long do you think a person can keep standing without feeling tired? Well, you may be thinking in terms of hours or maybe days, but the one who made it to the Guinness Boook of World Records was Swami Maujgiri Maharaj, who established an unbeatable record of continuously standing on his feet for more than 17 years! It is said that Swami Maujgiri Maharaj went through this self-inflicted ordeal to perform some kind of tapasya or penance from 1955 to 1973 in Shahjahanpur Pur (now called Deen Dyal Upadhaya Junction) in Uttar Pradesh. When sleeping, he would lean against a plank. He died aged 85 in September 1980.

Then, it is not rare at our holy places to come across a saffron-clad babaji sticking out his tongue with along thick needle perforating it. If you ask him what act of piety he is performing by doing so, all that he will do is to glower at you. He might even be incensed enough to ask his obedient çhelas’ to give you a sound thrashing. Gluttony also has its loyal followers all over the world. Here is an old newspaper snippet with me about a man who could eat prodigious number of eggs in one sitting. He was said to have once polished off, in one sitting, thirty-six eggs without a glass of water to wash the stuff down with. What did he do it for? Of course, it was to win a bet of a few rupees. A feat in gluttony that some time back took place in Japan deserves to be included in this article. Takeru Kobayashi, a 26-year-old Japanese with a slim build and weighing just 60 kg, found his years old addiction to hot-dog a trifle too boring.

So, he decided to broaden his repertoire by branching out into hamburgers. His very first attempt in this field was a remarkable success and was widely reported in newspapers. What he did was mind-boggling. He wolfed down 69 hamburgers in just eight minutes, to the unspeakable wonder of some American tourists who were then standing around him! Ever heard of a fellow who is crazy about establishing a record in kissing the maximum number of women in the minimum possible time? Kissing here means a friendly social peck on the cheek, not your passionate lips-to-lips lover’s kiss. Or the suffocating French kiss. It is on record that on May 30, 1988, one James Whale kissed 4,525 women in just eight hours, at the Yorkshire TV Telethon garden party in Leeds, UK. And since then, it is said Whale has been raring to batter his own record, but, unfortunately, so far a suitable opportunity has not yet come his way.