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A living library

If a library lends you a person instead of a book, the experience is bound to be quite different from what you are used to

As you walk up to the registration section of this library, a young girl at the desk greets you with a smile and asks, “Hi, which book would you want to read?” She hands over a catalogue which has a short introduction to each book, which helps the reader choose. Thus, without wasting much time, you might say, “No. 8”. She hands you a book issue slip and says, “Go to the corner mostroom, your book is waiting for you!”

Indeed, the book is waiting patiently. The book greets you with a smile and asks you to take a seat, along with many other readers. Yes, you heard it right. The book can walk, talk and has a soul. No, it is not some fictional book from the world of Harry Potter. It is a Human Book Library in the heart of the capital city. A unique library where humans can be borrowed like books, and they will share their life stories with the readers. You can even question the books and interact with them, which allow readers to delve deeper into their lives.

The first human library was started in Copenhagen, Denmark in the year 2000 by Ronni Abergel. The aim was to encourage dialogue and challenge stereotypes. It is a movement which addresses society’s taboos and prejudices by talking about them. Since then it has spread to more than 80 countries of the world. In India, the first such human library event was hosted in Indore in 2016, followed by Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi.

“I was going through a low phase in my life, and I was looking for something to give meaning to my life. It was then I came got to know about Human Library, which was started in Hyderabad. I really liked the concept. I thought it would be an interesting journey to take on,” says Neha Singh, founder of Human Library, Delhi chapter. This was Delhi’s 18th Human Library event which was held at Nehru Place’s 91 Springboard.

Patriot’s first human book is ‘Buddha in daily life’ where a man in his 70s shares his spiritual, soul searching journey. He talks about how he would work late at office to avoid going home and facing his wife, who was suffering from schizophrenia. Rajiv (name changed) spoke about how he as well as his wife were diagnosed with fatal diseases, but after he started practising Buddhism, his life took a 180° change. “I want to bring out the best in people and make them realise their potential through my story,” he says with a smile.

Many of those attending this fascinating event were first-timers. “I got to know about this from one of my friends, and instantly liked the concept. I wanted to experience this in person and thus came here,” says Gulkirat, a student from Rohtak. “I attended the Human Library, Hyderabad chapter, so when I got to know about its Delhi chapter I was eager to attend it,” says Jatin, a Delhiite.

Akash (name changed), 23, is another human book. A graceful dancer and soft-spoken person, he was shamed for being homosexual throughout his life. He was taught that he should be ‘macho’ like other boys of his class. He was made to think that ‘classical dance forms like Kathak are not for men’. “I believe art has no gender. No one looks down upon a man who is a doctor or engineer or teacher, then why should male classical dancers be typecast?”, he says. He further shares how his experience as a human book till now has been truly enriching. “It gave me a platform to share my story and let people know that you should accept yourself as you are and not seek acceptance from others.

“That divorced lady in your family who is termed ‘characterless’ is the kind of book we are looking at. Now when she is sitting across you, she is nobody to you — she is just a woman who had a failed relationship due to whatever reasons. She is a human. There is something called ‘pillars of prejudice’ — it is growing list of the kind of prejudices that exist in our society. We try to pick up the most prominent ones in our surroundings”, says Singh.

As you go from one reading session to another, it turns out many readers are hearing and speech impaired. This was something which made the event break all barriers — the barriers which distinguish people based on their disability. Each table had a sign language interpreter. “I got to know about this event from my teacher and immediately agreed to volunteer. This initiative makes the event accessible to those who are otherwise not able to attend such community events,” says Jyoti, a sign language interpreter.

In a human book ‘Non-believer to believer’, a 47-year-old woman beautifully narrated her life story about her belief in the Almighty’s powers. “All my life till now I have kept others first, but then I thought about doing something for myself. Now, my kids have also grown up and are on their own. And I was always intrigued by community services and social work, thus I volunteered as a ‘human book’,” says Mira (name changed). She further shares how the younger generation sometimes fail to relate with God and thus she wants to help them see what cannot be seen, but can only be felt.

“You can connect to and love people beyond relationships,” adds Singh. “This is what the Human Library teaches you. You can look at people taking all their labels and layers down. We talk about stereotypes, discriminations etc. and what we forget is there is a deeper bond we share with each human. Thus, people cannot be segregated on the basis of their beliefs, their orientation, their disability, their past.”

She further adds that here in these events there have been questions by readers in which nobody could have the courage to ask in their daily lives. Like a drug abuse victim was asked, “How did you feel after taking drugs?” or a homosexual person was asked, “How do you have sex?” “All these questions should be addressed. Human Library answers all such questions, fills various gaps and makes people connect,” she believes.

When Mira was asked about her experience here, she said it makes her feel alive. It gives her the opportunity to meet new people, make new friends. Many others feel the same. The room is abuzz with people — all talking to each other, getting to know their stories and sharing a bond which is beyond the labelled ones — like the ones you share with your books. After all, books are a man’s best companion.