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For India's tallest family, life is about tackling the small problems - from finding shoes that fit to cinema seats with legroom.
To prove that the world is small, all that the Kulkarnis have to do is stand up. Immediately, ceilings close in, cars shrink and Amitabh Bachchan scales down. At a collective height of 26 feet, this Pune family does not exactly have nature's permission to be inconspicuous. So, life for India's tallest family is all about making friends with a permanent spotlight that they did not really ask for.
Seated on the sofa in their modest living room, none of them tend to use hand gestures at all when they talk. It's as if they don't want their long limbs to draw any further attention. At seven feet and two inches, Sharad Kulkarni, the head of the family, has to sit on the rear seat of his maroon Activa to be able to ride it. Frequently, complete strangers have walked up to him and asked about his parent's diet. "It was annoying initially but now, I enjoy the fact that they stare at me and gossip, " says Sharad, deputy manager, State Bank of India, which he joined because he plays basketball. "If I were short, who would care?" asks the man, who, along with his six-feetthree-inch tall wife Sanjyot, once spent an entire night hiding behind a water tank in Pune because a Ganapati festival mob thought he was Amitabh Bachchan.
Almost reflexively, every room they enter becomes theirs. "Even if we dress casually at social functions, our well-dressed friends feel neglected by people, " says the striking 22-year-old Mruga, who at 6 foot one is the shortest in the family. The reticent 16-year-old Saniya, on the other hand, hates it when drunk rickshawallahs sometimes pass snide comments about her height. She was 6 feet 5 inches when the record was made and has now grown another inch. In school, the girls' height translated into an unwanted gender change. "We always had to play boys in the annual day dance shows, " says Mruga.
The Kulkarnis entered the Limca Book of Records as a family this year but have been featured as India's tallest couple ever since they married in 1989. Sanjyot's grandmother had spotted Sharad riding a scooter in Pune. "She said her granddaughter was 6 feet 3 inches but I refused to believe her, " says Sharad, who had never met a woman over 5 feet ten inches throughout his basketball tours all over India. But on meeting Sanjyot, whose father worried about her marriage, he knew she was the one.
Everything that's essential in their house is close to the ceiling - trophies, toys, medicines, kitchen essentials and God. All the doors and entryways in the Kulkarni house are eight feet tall, a feet higher than the standard. "We bought the place when it was under construction so we could restructure easily, " says Sharad. The two beds in the living room and the girl's room are 8 by 6 feet wide and fold into the wall after use. In the kitchen, the glass dining table too does the same. The chairs make their guests' feet dangle, the triple-door fridge is over six feet tall and most essentials are out of reach.
They are also planning to raise the toilet seat. However, they can't customise the outside world. So, they have to adjust. For instance, the Gupte hospital in Pune, where Saniya was delivered, did not have a bed long enough to accommodate Sanjyot. So the staff members had to join two hospital beds on which Sanjyot lay diagonally. "At no extra charge, " smiles the mother, adding that while both the girls were born long, Saniya measured 26 inches at birth. Their life includes many such adjustments. They can't travel by BEST buses unless they get seats with legroom. "But people are kind enough to offer seats, " says Sharad, who books only the front seat or the emergency exit seats when he goes by air. Side berths on long-distance trains translate into sleepless journeys. Outings are rare and at the movies, they can occupy only the last row.
Since their shoe-sizes range from 8 to 12, they are forced to do their shopping online or from Europe. In fact, Sharad used to make do with small shoes which meant that his toes suffocated. "I had ingrown toenails which had to be operated every year, " he says. Mruga, who aspires to be a model, hates the fact that she can't wear heels. The many pairs at home are used only for outings with the family. Clothes are ordered either online or from Europe. While the girls sometimes get triple XL shirts and get them altered, they get clothes stitched. Last year, the Kulkarnis also tried to apply for a Guinness record for being the tallest family.
But since they were required to spend eight days in the hospital where a doctor would measure their height thrice a day in the presence of a local representative, they opted out. "We could not afford it, " says Sharad. While no one asks about the weather up there, there are other annoying questions. On many occasions, Sharad has to clarify that basketball was a consequence of his height and not vice versa. Saniya and Mruga, on the other hand, find the oft-repeated concerns about their chances of finding a groom annoying. "Our parents found each other. So will we, " say the girls, who hope to be able to wear heels on the big day.
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