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Record making: Channelising youth energy

November 18, 2012

The largest human flag – photo by Arif Ali

The second-half of 2012 lived to witness eleven Guinness world records which permanently bent a portion of Pakistan’s history and emerged as a pleasant surprise for many. With most martial art kicks in three minutes, heaviest vehicle pulled by the beard, fastest time to wire a plug, fastest time to make three chapattis, fastest time to arrange a chess set, most consecutive football headers, fastest time to change into cricket whites, and most jumps in 30 seconds, the Punjab Youth Festival birthed a series of truly eventful moments, exceeded only by three further (team) records: world’s largest mosaic, at least 70,000 Pakistanis singing the national anthem together, and 24,200 students making the largest flag in just ten minutes.

But Pakistan was not the only one toasting to new-found fame: in various other parts of the globe, the world continued to dive into records like ‘most Tweets sent during a live interview’ (co-created by — you won’t believe — Justin Bieber), ‘most questions asked during a drive-through visit’, ‘tallest shaving cream wig built in one minute’ and ‘longest time smiling’.

There’s more: 2,510 students from the UK are apparently the most in the world to be dressed up as the Smurfs — leaving you wondering how the tiny blue fictional characters ended up with such a huge fan following. Then there is Ashrita Furman, the man who rolled an orange with his nose for almost a mile in just 29 minutes. If this doesn’t seem frivolous enough, keep reading: the same Ashrita has also crushed 80 eggs with his head in one minute, with 298 other records under his ludicrous belt — another remarkable, yet completely unnecessary feat. In much the same spirit dwell the records of the world’s longest human fingernails (think feet) and the longest wedding dress (now think kilometres) — all of which bamboozle the imagination with their shockingly asinine hilarity.

The point exactly? It is but a joy to see creative, enthusiastic individuals fight for a spot in history, toiling hard to push their dream into the realm of reality.

On the other hand, one can say that it all serves no purpose; it is myopic, cerebrally primitive and shallow.

The youth, as we see today, is much more than just a group of mobile-tapping, self-obsessed layabouts — those who get off the couch either to riot or to ask for more curry. Rather, it has become our safest bet for social, moral and intellectual change — a vehicle of timeless energy. Indeed, if hundreds of American students can passionately strive for African-American voting rights in the seemingly-ancient 1950s, imagine what this ball of fire — which now constitutes a major fraction of every nationality — can do in this age and time.

Half of the world’s population is under 25 years old, and thus heir to life’s most prolific years. As the UNFPA states, young people have ‘what it takes to improve their own lives and those of their peers. However, their success will largely depend on their ability to take advantage of the educational and economic opportunities’.

Then, why would this potential ‘ball of fire’ emerge as the largest paper hat-wearing faction at a festival? Or meticulously assemble together as most people at one time doing a Hawaiian dance? Or most people whistling at one time? Or most people partaking in a speed-dating event? Most bananas in one’s trousers? Or — ironically enough — most people singing the national anthem?

It is here where we pause for contemplation: interestingly enough, the aforementioned record first belonged to India, then Pakistan, then India, then Pakistan again (yes, what a rinse and repeat), leaving one wondering if the deed was, in reality, an absurd culmination of ‘competition’ between the two countries. Think about it: there was a time when Pakistan would take pride in producing the personalities that it did; a time when ‘achievements’ were bred purely from stories of brilliance, selfless honour and courage; when people could separate the white from the grey; the life-enhancing contribution from the shallow, instant shot at publicity.

It is rather bitter but worth a thought: in a country where a meagre two per cent of the budget is allotted for departments of health and education, where illicit weaponry has become nearly as accessible as ice-cream, where the population of street children continues to grow and where intensive corruption, religious extremism and a haggard leadership make every passing day more unpredictable than the previous, creating the world’s largest mosaic (the Shahi Qila) really doesn’t help the common man or any of his generations.

If world record be the condition, one that ameliorates the circumstances of the country, or affects lives in any way possible, is guaranteed to sit proudly for centuries to come. The real antidote to misery, thus, lies not in cranking out short-term pathways to success, but channelling the same energy towards feats, and dreams, that matter. Instead of setting a record for fastest chapaati-making, how about making one for ‘most people fed’? In a country where a large population is compelled to consume solvents to stave off hunger, this, by far, is the least we can do.

And it’s not that hard to inspire! Take a cue from Maddie and Ashley McFeeley, two diabetic teenage sisters, who have not just raised more than $57,000 to help fight juvenile diabetes but who continue to encourage people to sign up for ‘Walk for a Cure’. In some other part of the world, fire-fighters explain to masses how they can safely exit a building on fire, giving one hope of avoiding horrendous death tolls in the future. Financial, drug and sex education —whose absence in a society makes it sick and ravenous — are being made part of the curriculum elsewhere. And it is youth initiative that is making it happen. ‘Give a Spit About Cancer’ is one such campaign run by DoSomething.org, where young people are asked to run cheek swab drives around their colleges to increase the number of potential donors (people have the right to agree, defer or deny donation after that). City-wide collection of recyclable aluminium cans is yet another brainchild of the youth-driven organisation, which launches a new national campaign almost every other week, and is unique because ‘neither of its drives requires money, an adult or a car’.

From creating educational websites to conducting online English classes for the students of Gujarat, all is accomplished using a lone computer — and bags and bags of youthful devotion — as the United Nations Volunteers have shown. We can do it, too. Be it walkathons, advocacy seminars, fundraisers for hospitals, government schools and parks, beach cleanups or ‘unwanted wall-art’ removal, impact is literally just a thought away. Pakistan’s Amal Team, amongst various other independent youth efforts, is one such exemplary model, where dreams are made and fulfilled on a regular basis. The Citizens Foundation, Dar-ul-Sukoon, Team Youth Revolution and the Kuch Karo movement, to name a few, make the nation just as proud by operating selflessly at the edge of their capacity. But guess what? We still need more hands, more governmental support, more foresight, and a much larger scale of impact.

Bet the 70,000+ individuals who worked day and night to make entries in the big green book of Guinness could have helped.