x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Pocket Guide: The unique lives of little people

Nikolaus Oliver is on hand to marvel at the unique lives of two little people, and why they are a shining example to us all.

We all enjoy it when records are broken. It's fun. But is it always?

News that the Guinness Book of World Records has announced a new World's Shortest Man has unleashed a storm - albeit a tiny one - over whether citing this record is in good taste.

The man of the moment is Khagendra Thapa Magar of Nepal, who is 67cm tall. He made the record on October 14 when he turned 18 and became a man. On October 13, the shortest man was a Columbian, Edward Nino Hernandez, who stands (as it were) a lofty 70cm. Mr Hernandez, 24, has evidently had his 15 minutes of fame and must now step back into the shadows.

Mr Magar is ambitious. He has announced that he wishes to be married within two years. He would also like a red car.

"I don't consider myself to be a small man," he says. "I'm a big man. I hope that having this title enables me to prove it and get a proper house for me and my family." I think he might be right.

For his part, Mr Hernandez hasn't grown since he was two years old but doesn't let it get him down. He enjoys spending time with his 18-year-old girlfriend, Fanny who, at 152cm, towers over him. He likes playing dominoes and exploring his native country.

The previous record holder, a Chinese man named He Pingping, died last March, while filming in Rome. He had been 74cm tall.

He was, by all accounts, a charming and charismatic man who smoked incessantly. Told by his brother-in-law that he should quit, he snapped, "You should quit, I'm not going to." Clearly, a man who knew his own mind.

Having records associated with physical conditions well outside the norm seems queasily redolent of Victorian freak shows. Of course, we admire He Pingping and his like for not being crushed by their condition, for getting on with life. But ought we to gawp?

Being the World's Shortest Man no doubt brings attention and earning power - two sure-fire morale boosters. But does anyone care about or pay attention to the world's fourth shortest man?

Well, they do if he is Verne Troyer, the Hollywood actor who played Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies. Mr Troyer's extraordinary performances in those films have done much to change public perceptions of dwarfism and demonstrate that being short in no way precludes talent and success. Mr Troyer has given millions of us the chance to review our prejudices and shake them off.

So I hope Khagendra Thapa Magar enjoys his time as a record holder, and that when his reign eventually ends he will continue to - if I may coin a phrase - stand short and be proud.