Vinay Lal, a historian at U.C.L.A., explored India’s “national obsession” with the Guinness book in a collection of essays published in 2003. Lal called upon various theories to explain the phenomenon. He noted, for example, “a certain anxiety, first generated during the colonial period, and subsequently aggravated by the process of nation-building, over masculinity and the manliness of a people, no less of a nation.” He pointed out that the first surge of record applications from India occurred during the late 1980s, when the country was reaching for Western-style modernity. Indians stuck on the periphery of the boom searched for other ways to assert their primacy. “The Guinness book,” Lal wrote, “is the poor Indian’s medium for acquiring cultural capital.”Perhaps, although we should also look at another country crazy for Guinness Book feats. From my VDARE review of former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda’s recent book Manana Forever?
Shukla often ponders his countrymen’s keenness for records. For one thing, he said: “India is possibly the most competitive country in the world. Even if you come from a middle-class or upper-middle-class background, and you can afford your children’s education, still it’s not easy to get admission into school.” There are always more people than resources, so you vie with others for everything: food subsidy cards, train bookings, parking spots, public housing. This relentless competition, Shukla thinks, channels itself naturally into record-setting ventures. There is a one-upmanship even in the antic quality of these records, and there’s a breathless impatience familiar to anyone acquainted with life in India.
Castañeda points out that Mexico’s main distinction in international competition appears to be concocting, with government support, pointless new feats for the Guinness Book of World Records, such as Most People Dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. He quotes another Mexican political scientist, Carlos Elizondo:
“Why such an obsession with this? For the same reasons we dislike competition. These records are based on noncompetition. … Nobody else in the world cares.”