MUMBAI // The pink plastic cap of a hand-sanitiser bottle peeked through the tightly clasped hands of Raj Sharath Gaikad as he looked up at the ceiling of a mall and folded his hands in prayer.
"I have read the books and watched the television series," 13-year-old Raj said. "I am praying we make it."
Raj, 13, a student of SS High School from Nerul, a suburb of Navi Mumbai, was one of hundreds of students who filed into the Centre One Mall on Friday morning, hoping to land a place in the Guinness World Records for the most number of people hand-sanitising at a single venue.
The previous record was set on 28 September 2011, when 2,258 people gathered in San Diego to promote hygienic hand-washing practices.
India may be a latecomer to the world of record-breaking but what it lacks in history, it is making up in enthusiasm.
In 2011, the country made the third highest number of record applications to Guinness World Records - behind only US and United Kingdom. Applications from India rose nearly 400 per cent in the past five years and the number of actual record holders grew by over 250 per cent in the same period.
"India has always had a fascination with the Guinness World Records. They have a desire to be the best at something. They are high achievers, more than any other country," said Andrea Banfi, the head of record adjudications, based in Guinness World Records headquarters in London.
In April, Guinness World Records announced the launch of its India operations and appointed Nikhil Shukla as their India-based official in response to the country's growing interest. The record-keeping company also launched a website dedicated to India, mostly to sidestep middle men, who would charge aspiring record holders fees for applications and for contacting the company.
"In the past, people would take on that role and that can lead to misunderstanding and disappointment," said Ms Banfi.
In turn, India has perhaps found the perfect way to attain more records with its 1.2 billion population, channelling it into group events to create the largest gatherings to pursue records.
They are called "mass participation" records by Guinness World Records.
"It is a great way of rallying people together, coming together for a good cause. It is one of our basic human needs to be part of a group, as just as much to have a sense of achievement", Ms Banfi said.
At the mall, Minaz Feroz Khan, 9, from the Swami Shukdevanand High School in Nerul, joined her friends in a mock drill before taking a crack at the record.
"If I win I am going to hang the certificate in front of the TV so everyone watches it instead. But first, we have a record to beat," Minaz said.
For the drill, more than 2,848 students readied themselves with hand-sanitiser bottles held above their heads, then brought them down to apply the liquid while following the words of a song, repeating each phrase four times: palm to palm; back of hands; between fingers; back of fingers; cleaning thumb; centre of palm.
The exercise lasted 53.76 seconds, according to Mr Shukla.
The minimum requirement set by the records team is that the exercise should last at least 30 seconds.
But it is difficult to evaluate a mass gathering, said Ms Banfi. "One of the most difficult."
For a record to be set, there are other variables to consider apart from timing, including head count and record type.
"We do not accept estimates. We want exact numbers. We cannot say in our records that more than 10,000 people participated because there has to be something that can be broken. Accuracy is a must. It has to be absolutely accurate," Ms Banfi said.
For that, Mr Shukla counted and cross-verified every school group's head count, submitted to him by a set of independent auditors.
Mr Shukla, a broad-shouldered, heavy-set man in a blue suit, carried a clicker, with the Guinness logo and badge pinned to his lapel. The underside of his clipboard was also emblazoned with the logo.
As he counted heads, he also turned heads. Children nudged each other and pointed to Mr Shukla, sometimes breaking formation to cheer and wave at the adjudicator. He continued counting.
"At times you really have to resist smiling back at them, especially when you are counting," Mr Shukla said.
There were 2,848 students from 19 schools sitting in the corridors of the mall. With participating teachers and volunteers from the Fortis Healthcare Group, the organisers, the final tally stood at more than 3,000 people.
But that did not guarantee a record. Mr Shukla would look for disqualifications.
"It could be as simple as the bottle falls down or you don't use the sanitiser to wash your hands," he said.
Silence fell for the final round. Arms were raised, instructions were followed and hands were sanitised. Then the excruciating wait for the results began.
Raj, the student, leaned on his friend's shoulder, waiting for the result.
There were 37 disqualifications but, in the end, 3,039 people had simultaneously sanitised their hands at a single venue creating a new record.
"I made it, I made it," screamed Raj, shaking his fists. "I am part of the world's history."