Pilloried by neighbors, laughed at in freak shows and spurned by the women he admired from afar, Chandra Bahadur Dangi has always seen his tiny stature as a curse.
However, the 72-year-old Nepali, who claims to stand at just 56cm tall, is on the brink of a life change as significant as a lottery win as experts prepare to test his claim to be the shortest man in history.
Until now, Junrey Balawing from the Philippines has held the title of the world’s smallest living man with a height of 59.93cm.
Guinness World Records experts confirmed last week they plan to travel to Dangi’s village in the impoverished southwestern valleys of Dang District to measure the pensioner, who says he weighs just 12kg.
If his measurements prove correct, he would eclipse Balawing, but would also be the shortest human adult ever documented, taking the accolade from India’s Gul Mohammed, who was measured at 57cm before he died in 1997 aged 40.
Dangi said in his first interview with Western media that recognition at the end of his life would be some compensation for the years of hardship he has had to endure.
“I think things will be better now. I hope that I will be famous all over the world,” Dangi said at a religious festival in Surunga, a town on the banks of the Kankai River 280km southeast of Kathmandu.
“I want to visit foreign countries and meet people from around the world,” he said.
Dangi, who was orphaned at 12 and has five normal-sized brothers, says he has never experienced romance and is yet to find his soul mate.
“I was short since my childhood. So, I could not find a woman to marry when I was young. Then I just gave up on the idea of marriage. At this old age, I’m not interested in marriage anymore,” he said.
The cause of his stunted growth remains a mystery, although many holders of the “world’s shortest man” crown have suffered from primordial dwarfism.
Dangi says relatives would parade him as a freak at fetes and festivals when he was younger, refusing to share with him any of the cash they earned.
“They would treat me like a toy,” he told the Kathmandu-based Republica newspaper. He was brought to the attention of the world last week after Nepali researchers looking into the history of the Dangi people were introduced to him.
“We walked for several hours and reached his home in Purandhara Village. He was living with his 35-year-old nephew and his [nephew’s] family,” said Mohan Dangi, who led the expedition. “We invited him to take part in our week-long religious ceremony. To us, it occurred that he could be world’s shortest man.”
Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who scrapes a living weaving the naamlo, a traditional jute band used to carry heavy weights, has already become something of a celebrity in southern Nepal.
At the religious festival in Surunga he was smeared in vermilion powder — which can symbolize power, love or desire in Hindu culture — as fans lined up to greet him, offer him flowers and have their pictures taken with him.
Chandra Bahadur Dangi Dangi knows he may have to get used to the attention, as public life beckons.
Another Nepali, Khagendra Thapa Magar, held the record as the world’s shortest man for a year after being measured in 2010 at 67cm.
Magar made television appearances in Europe and the US and was the official face of Nepal’s tourism campaign, which featured him as the smallest man in a country that is home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.