Spurred on by ear-splitting cheers, Mohammed Rafi pulls a Maruti Omni with six occupants tied to his long mane by a rope, while carrying a weight-laden barbell rod and balancing a t-rod, also laden with weights, on his lower jaw. In 63 seconds, his determined feet gobble 24 metres.

Next, he tries out a variation — the Omni is packed with eight people, and tethered to his hair, and there are two big-sized gas cylinders on his arms. This time, he covers 21 metres in 51 seconds. Still not done with it, he huffs and puffs across the marked area one last time — now, he is weighed down by a 24-kg t-rod locked between his jaws, two cylinders on his arms and an Omni with eight occupants tied to his hair. His weary feet totter across 15 metres in 40 seconds.

Eye on Guinness

Rafi is part of a rare breed of people who attempt such feats to draw attention. Rafi’s attempt, which unfolded in front of an unbelieving crowd at Kalaivanar Arangam on October 5, was triggered by his desire for a Guinness record as well as a place in the Record Holders Republic (RHR), an organisation based in the U.K. with ‘citizenship’ restricted to people who achieve the seemingly impossible. A few days before Rafi’s singular achievement, Isshinryu master Balamurgan (known as Geribala for his innovative kicks — ‘Geri’ means kick) and 120 of his students orchestrated a performance at the NSG Hub in the Police Training College, Ashok Nagar. With engines roaring, ten bikes wheeled over Geribala’s chest 1001 times in 42 minutes and 24 seconds. The karate instructor was motivated by a desire way different from Rafi’s. “I did not perform the feat to break or create a record. As a kid, I was fascinated by the defence forces. Fearing for my safety, my mother dissuaded me from joining the force. But, I have been closely following the fortunes of our forces. When I learnt about the War Wounded Foundation, established to support soldiers who had suffered debilitating injuries in wars, I wanted to pitch in. My achievement was dedicated to the Indian Armed Forces, and the money generated went to the Foundation. I deliberately downplayed the record-creating aspect of the event so as not to divert attention from the cause.”

The programme was attended by Lt. Col. R.K. Sharma, who led the NSG operation during the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai and the parents of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who lost his life combating terrorists. “I am following up on Lt. Col. Sharma’s suggestion that I join the Territorial Army,” says Geribala.

As founder-secretary of The Challengers Academy (which assists super-achievers attempting records by managing events and also helping them with the elaborate official procedure that has to be followed for any record to be accepted by the Guinness or other record-recognition bodies), M. George Bernard regularly rubs shoulders with such super achievers and has an insight into the motivations that drive them to daredevilry.

“A vast number of them are in unexciting jobs that don’t provide opportunities to be known beyond a small group of people. By identifying themselves with a news-making record, they gain a sense of importance,” says Bernard.

Worth the sacrifice

As someone who sells chocolates for a living, Rafi constantly battles financial demons. His daredevilry eats into his the recognition is livelihood, but Rafi thinks the recognition is worth the sacrifice.

Sometimes, records open up job prospects. “In India, many of those performing stunt-related feats are keen on entering the cine field. If they are lucky, they will land the role of a villain or one of the bad guys," says Bernard. “I can give many examples of people who landed good jobs or were recognised by Goveernments. In 2000, when I was part of a group of 18 musicians that carried on a concert for 37 hours on the trot, I was offered citizenship by the Singapore government. But I declined the offer.”

Following this record, Bernard got interested in others such as him — people who put their bodies and minds to utmost stress to achieve the spectacular. “I discovered that many records go down the drain for want of proper documentation and due to disregard for procedure. As someone who has been there, I understand the struggles that go into creating records. It is sad if they go unrecognised.”