New Delhi: At 6 pm on 4 April, Soni Chaurasia began her quest for a record. At 12.05 am on 10 April, she had set one, having danced for more than 124 hours.
The feat had earned the 31-year-old an entry to the Guinness World Records. In the process, she had broken a five-year-old previous record set by Kalamandalam Hemalatha of Kerala, who performed Mohiniyattam for 123 hours.
“This feat has come after a lot of preparation. I quit my job as a dance teacher to prepare for this,” said Chaurasia, who began learning Kathak in 2003 from Pt Uma Prakash Mishra in Varanasi.
She is no stranger to records, and holds one for a 24-hour-long Kathak performance on roller skates, which she achieved in 2010.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the latest record in a tweet sent out on Monday morning, and called Chaurasia a “bright youngster”.
“Establishing a record is not about fame but rather the feeling of being truly unique,” said Rajesh Dogra, Chaurasia’s skating guru.
It is he who came up with the idea of marrying roller skating with Kathak. “Soni had come to learn roller-skating from me in 2003 and I had noticed her flair for dancing then. It is then that she began taking Kathak classes,” said Dogra, hastening to clarify that the current record is purely for dancing.
Chaurasia, who has a diploma in Kathak and a post-graduate degree in music from Banaras Hindu University, attempted to set the record last year, but failed after dancing for some 80 hours.
Undeterred she began preparing for another attempt right away. “I would start my day at 3 am with a glass of lemon and honey and then it was time for a 8 km run on the banks of the Ganga. After that there would be a strenuous yoga session and meditation. By 8 am, I would swim from one bank to another and be ready for dance practice,” she said. Her daily dance practice would last for four hours.
“From 25 to 28 March this year, I practised in the pattern I intended to follow to achieve this record. According to the guidelines of the record, I was entitled to a 20-minute break after every four hours of dancing. On the first day itself, I danced from 6 pm to 2 am non-stop. This allowed me 40 minutes of rest time of which she availed only 10. In this manner, I kept accumulating my break time for when I might actually need it,” said Chaurasia.
A team of 50 people, including a physiotherapist, a physician and a cook, were on hand during Chaurasia’s dance marathon.
Her family runs a paan shop in Banaras and none of them has any interest in the arts. “They are mostly into sports but I have always felt a push towards dance. In fact, it was my devotion to the form that made me quit my job with a school in Haryana and focus on creating the record,” said Chaurasia.
The thought of achieving a record came to her serendipitously, during a conversation with her friends. “What began as fun and laughter matured into an express intention,” she said.
The last eight hours of the performance, according to her, were the toughest as her body was crying out for sleep. “But my mind was insistent that it was all or nothing. And it prevailed,” said Chaurasia.
According to the office website of Guinness World Records, in 2011, India accounted for the third-largest number of record applications. In 2012, Guinness World Records appointed an India-based official. “Applications from India have grown nearly 400% in the past five years and the number of actual record holders has grown over 250% in the same period,” said a release posted on the website.
The Economist, in an article in February 2015, theorized on why Indians love breaking records. “…Indians perform dreadfully at most global sports… world records in quirky activities might thus help to bolster Indian national pride,” it said, adding that Indians are “admirably comfortable with eccentricity”.