Reaching New Heights

In many ways it is a typical Queens backyard.    There is a nice Cherry tree in the back corner and a chain link fence by the street that keeps the rambling expanse of green secluded and private.  For 50 weeks of the year you wouldn’t pay much notice to it at all.  It is in those 2 special weeks in late August however that for the past few years it has become a place of playful wonder and amazement.

Car drivers zipping past are probably unaware of what takes place just yards from the street.  The gaze of pedestrians making their meandering way up the sidewalk however must certainly be drawn in befuddlement at the unique creations that begin to appear there just over the fence during the steamy heart of every late summer.

It all seems to all happen in a brief yet explosive burst of activity.  One moment there will be piles of lumber, great mounds of bagged sugar, or enough popcorn to feed several circus crowds many times over.  The whys and wherefores of this puzzle are easily understood when you learn that the man behind the unusual goings on is Ashrita Furman.  He is a human tsunami wave of energy and enthusiasm.   It is he who is the creator and breaker of the most Guinness book records ever and is the instigator of the unusual constructions that appear across the wide expanse of rugged green lawn.

It has happened for many years now that Ashrita and a crew of fellow disciples have engineered and manufactured world record marvels in order to honor their spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy.  Since his passing in 2007 the tradition has continued.  Last year a giant edible  lollipop was constructed.  This year Ashrita decided upon building the worlds largest see saw.  Don’t ask me why, and came up with the dimensions of 79 feet long to match what would have been Sri Chinmoy’s age on his birthday August 27th.

Yuyudhan is this years job foreman and when I come upon him first he was in the early stages of trying to put together this typical playground apparatus, but of the almost impossible dimensions.  His good humored reply as to how he got involved, “trickery.  We have got 2/3rds of a teeter totter going here, or what some in England would call a see saw.”

It is still fairly early in the building stage and it appears that there are few, if any glitches that are likely to slow the inevitable progress of its construction in time for its final installation on the 27th.  For now Yuyudhan and his crew are trying to just get the object assembled and see if it is going to work.

At this point in its construction he says, “we are just trying to get things going.  We are now assembling 2 of the 3 main pieces of the see saw.” He then admits that some wrong bolts where purchased which will have to be replaced.  Only a small inconvenience.

He has been working for almost a week at this point and it becomes clear that there has been a real collaboration on its design.  In some mysterious way, a crew seems to come together almost spontaneously, of the right capacity and number, at just the right time each year as well.  He says that Bishwas was principally responsible for designing the stand and that he did much of the structural fine tuning of the see saw portion.

When asked  where the ‘trickery’ came in with his involvement he says, “I was supposed to build it, and not get into the design and all that.”  Clearly though he is relishing his involvement in constructing the world’s biggest see saw.  As simple as it appears it takes real skill to super size such a simple device.  He came up with some important ideas that would allow the see saw to achieve its great length with a minimal amount of weight.

He goes into some technical discussion on how and why he chose certain materials.  At this point it looks close to being operational but he says that is still a day away.  It will take at least 12 guys to pick up the see saw and put it in place on the stand.  This will happen in the next 24 hours he says.

The almost constant rain has been a major factor in slowing down the early production.  At this point he has August from Iceland and Keith from New Zealand as his crew.  He says, “It is not that hard for one or two people to put most of it together.  The problem is that once you get the sections together one or two people cannot lift this thing.”

He describes how the pivot in the middle will be 10 feet high and that the rider on the end of it will rise up 20 feet.  With all the trees in the yard I wonder how it is even possible to adequately test the see saw.  “It will fit,” he states categorically.  He also has been designated as one who will have the dubious distinction of being the first test pilot, I mean rider. He is convinced all will go well.  “It is going to be a great teeter totter and a record breaker.”

Yuyudhan interview


Continue reading “Reaching New Heights”