Nepal's 'Little Buddha' to remain king of hearts

Kathmandu, June 12 (IANS) Once hailed as the world's shortest man, Nepal's 'Little Buddha' Khagendra Thapa Magar, his family and friends showed a large heart Sunday, welcoming the crowning of a Filipino teen as the shortest man in the world.

Khagendra, who turns 19 in October, went to school blithely in Pokhara city Sunday - the Shree Saraswati Boarding School where he is in lower kindergarten - not downcast by the fact that his claim to fame as the shortest man in the world at 26.4 inches has now been taken over by Junrey Balawing of the Philippines.

On Sunday, with Balawing turning 18, the Guinness World Records announced him the shortest man at 24 inches.

'In God's world, there may be lots of other people who are shorter than Khagendra,' said Rup Bahadur Thapa Magar, a former peasant from Baglung district in western Nepal. 'We can't stop them, nor would we like to.

'However, though Khagendra loses the title as the shortest man, he still remains unique.'

Min Bahadur Thapa Magar, president of Khagendra Thapa Magar Foundation, the NGO that spearheaded a media blitzkrieg for Khagendra, catapulting the hitherto unknown village boy into international limelight, said Khagendra and everyone else associated with him were offering their congratulations to the new title holder.

'However, Khagendra holds several other world records as well,' Thapa Magar said. 'He has also been recognised by the Guinness as the shortest artiste in the world. He can sing and dance and has entered people's hearts through his talents. Wherever he has gone, people have showered him with so much love that it will be difficult to dislodge him from the people's hearts.'

Till the Nepali teen became the world's shortest man last year, the earlier claimants had been little more than names, unable to catch the world's imagination.

But Khagendra, who also comes from the country that boasts of the world's highest peak, became a celebrity overnight, rubbing shoulders with Nepal's Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, film stars and beauty queens.

He has also taken part in campaigns to promote tourism in Nepal and raise awareness about the environment and had a film made on him.

His reign as the world's shortest artiste continues with the teen due to travel to Malaysia next month to attend a felicitation ceremony hosted by the Nepali diaspora there.

The boy, who came from a village with no motorable roads, has travelled to more than 30 countries abroad, starting his campaign from Guwahati city in Assam, where Thapa Magar says he was treated with love and respect.

However, Thapa Magar rues the fact that despite the attention Nepal received due to Khagendra, the government has done nothing to help the teen.

The Foundation is now drafting a memorandum to be submitted to the office of Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal.

'We are asking the government to help Khagendra by doing three simple things,' Thapa Magar told IANS.

'We are asking for a vehicle for him since travelling is a huge problem for him especially due to the rising pollution level. Besides, we are asking the government to take care of his food and accommodation.'

The Foundation is also asking the government for a plot of hand.

'We want to build a school for the differently abled,' says Thapa Magar. 'If the government grants us the land, we will raise the funds ourselves to build the school.'

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be reached at sudeshna.s@ians.in)