A new library movement is gaining momentum in India with human beings replacing books and readers turning into listeners as ‘living books’ tell them stories and hold two-way conversations.
Today 10 cities – Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Surat, Indore, Gurgraon, Delhi and Chandigarh – have a Human Library. Kolkata, the country’s cultural capital, will soon have one too.
The first Human Library sprouted in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000, when an anti-violence group was asked to build a program to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding for fans attending a popular music festival. It has been replicated around the world.
In India, the first library of people revolving around real life story telling, took off in Indore’s Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Harshad Dinkar Fad, the movement’s innovative lynchpin, told Al Arabiya in an interview.
“The concept went viral and got lots of media coverage. The fantastic mileage led to the second Human Library event in Hyderabad”, added Fad, a 22-year-old media marketing student based in Hyderabad from where he spearheads the Human Library movement which is catching on faster than he thought.
Needless to say, a Human Library doesn’t have a permanent address as it’s essentially an event whose venue is publicized in advance on Facebook and other social media. And prospective “readers” turn up in droves to read “books”.
Diversity and tolerance
Fad said that “anyone who is a victim of race, sex, age, disability, sexual preference, gender identity, class or religion-related prejudice or has an inspirational story to tell” can be a living book. “Our biggest priorities are diversity and tolerance.”
The Times of India reported that at a recent Human Library event in New Delhi, there were 11 human books available to tell a story. The narrators were not introduced by their names but the titles given to the human books by the organizers.
A book called Tea Leaves and Books narrated the story of a tea-seller turning into an author, Break Free talked about domestic abuse and gender inequality, The Rover was a woman rider who had traversed 17 countries and Different and Able told the story of a person who had lost a body part.
A book for conversation
An interested reader can choose a “book” and have a 20-30 minute, one-on-one chat sitting across a table. A group of readers can also pick a “book” for conversation. But readers must be at least 18 years old to talk to a book at any Human Library event.
Neha Singh, the Manager of the Delhi HL event, told The Times of India: “There were many people who wanted to be a book. We screened them and their stories and that’s how we zeroed in on those 11 books.”
Human Library programs abroad can be a mind-blowing experience compared to staid affairs in India. Patrons at an Ottawa event got to check out a stripper, a prostitute, a Somali refugee, a judge, an HIV-positive man, a Peking Opera performer, a woman born as a man, and a police officer under one roof!