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World's longest fingernails up for bids in China

December 13, 2000
Web posted at: 12:03 AM HKT (1603 GMT)

HONG KONG, China (Reuters) -- A retired Indian photographer who has grown his fingernails for almost half a century is calling it quits and will auction them off to the highest bidder.

Shridhar Chillal from Pune, near Bombay, has been a permanent fixture in the Guinness Book of World Records for the last 20 years for having the world's longest nails. Each more than three feet long, they sprout like snakes from a misshapen left hand, which is permanently disfigured from the extra weight that Chillal, now 64, has been carrying around.

Unsheathed for Reuters from what looks like an oversized golf club cover, Chillal's five precious appendages scarcely resemble fingernails at all. Thick and uneven, they appear more like bumpy antlers or oddly crafted walking sticks that twirl at their ends and are tortoiseshell in color.

Measuring the longest at 4.8 feet, his thumbnail is a giant coil with clear plastic tape wrapped around the root of the nail for added support. His index finger nail is 3.7 feet long and others range from 4 feet to 4.25 feet.

Ever cautious of even the slightest threat to his lovingly cultured fragile appendages, the slightly built man firmly keeps anyone and anything at more than arm's length.

"When I see a car, a scooter, a cow or a bull, a child or even adults, before they come my way I have to make sure I'm out of the way," Chillal told Reuters in an interview. "Even when there is a big gust of wind I turn my back and position my body so that the wind takes my back and my nails are secure. I shield them from the wind."

Despite taunts from friends and threats from family to snip off his nails while he slept, Chillal spoke of how a teenage challenge turned into a lifelong obsession.

"When I was 14 in 1952, I read about a Chinese priest who grew his fingernails till they were 22 inches," he said. "I was amazed and I decided I would do that and I could beat that. My family said it was not possible but I made up my mind."

More amazingly, he proved to his family he would not need to beg for a living but could find employment -- as a freelance photographer between 1957 and 1973, and as a government press photographer from 1973 until he retired in 1995.

But he says he is exhausted. Constant vigilance has meant he has not had a single night of proper sleep in almost 50 years and cannot risk being in crowds or hug his grandchild for fear of breaking his nails.

"I don't have deep sleep anymore. I can't move, can't turn sides, can't pull over the covers. I'm afraid they'll get covered by the pillow or get under my wife's pillow," said Chillal, who despite all his woes looks surprisingly fresh.

"I have so much tension as a result of the worry that my nails are going to break that with every heartbeat I'm tense."

Worse, the weight on his left hand has meant constant pain in his left wrist, elbow and shoulder, and not using his left hand has killed off vital nerves and left him deaf in one ear.

"I've lost 100 percent hearing in my right ear. My nerves there are dead because my left hand is unused," Chillal said. "I'm much older now so I feel I can't take this inconvenience for much longer. That's why I'm ready to give up."

Chillal, who was in Hong Kong to announce the sale of his nails, wants at least $200,000 for all five. "I prefer a museum or a curator preserve them and I also get reimbursement for all those years of inconvenience," he said, caressing his nails.

"I'll miss them but I'll be happy knowing they are preserved and that my name will carry on."

He is philosophical when asked if it was all worth it. "What does man not do for fame? He jumps from boats, dives from planes and does stunts on motorcycles. This is also done for fame," he said. "So, yes, I will do it all over again if I were to have another life," he added with a laugh.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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