The greatest books are those that tell human stories, and the concept behind the Human Library, an international movement that began in Copenhagen, Denmark, is to highlight and share with the world some exceptional stories of human beings whose life experiences could serve as a motivation to many of us. The idea here is to connect people through stories. So at any one of the Human Library centres across the globe, a group of people can listen to those with inspiring tales to share, as though they were reading a “human book”.

The concept was introduced in Copenhagen by Ronni Abergel, along with his brother and colleagues. This group, which was initially part of  a movement called “Stop the Violence”, decided to introduce the idea of “human books” in an attempt to challenge stereotypes and motivate people to empathise with their fellow beings.

At the Human Library, a “human book” is a person who has suffered a hard fate, including some gross injustice or violence. And if a group of “readers” decides to “check out” this “human book”, they get to hear his or her story for 15-20 minutes. These are tales of hardship and survival. The concept, which began in the year 2000, has now spread to over 80 countries and India is one of them.

In India, the first Human Library event was held at the Indian Institute of Management, Indore in November 2016. Soon after, Human Library’s Hyderabad chapter was set up.

Human Library Hyderabad was introduced by Harshad Fad (24), a content executive at Silly Monks, who started this endeavour with his college friends at the Annapurna International School of Film & Media. Harshad organised Hyderabad’s first Human Library event on 25 March this year, with 10 “human books”, and it was attended by around 100 people, which exceeded expectations.

Among the “titles” available here were A Man’s Journey to the Epitome of Grace, the experiences of a male dancer who impersonates as a woman; Chains of Freedom, the tales of a traveller who wants nations freed of borders; and Life in Olive Green, the stories of an army man.

In order to host a Human Library event, the organiser has to file an application to the parent organisation, which in turn reviews it, takes an interview and if likes the proposal enough, allows you to hold the event in your city. Then starts the most important step: finding the “human books”. The organiser has to find people who can tell their story in an engaging and coherent way to the readers. The event is open to all, and readers can “lend” a book by choosing a title from the available catalogue.

The concept was brought to Delhi by Neha Singh, who got the mandatory approval from the parent organisation. She is now responsible for all Human Library  events in Delhi. According to Neha, Human Library is a platform where after lending a book “you learn about human behaviour, finding courage within yourself and learning the similarity among us all”.

Talking  of how Human Library has changed her own life, she says, “I came to Delhi around seven years back, and it was then that I started meeting people outside my comfort zone. I started meeting different people through which I have become more accepting of people around me as I try not to judge people and orient myself the other way. And Human library has taken it to the next level. I am helping people to do that, so in turn it also helps me in finding my own catharsis.”

At the first ever Human Library event in Delhi, on 18 June 2017, the organisers received around 1,500 people, which posed minor organisational hitches, including time management concerns.

However, the second Human Library event in the national capital, on 9 July, was an upbeat affair.

One of the attendees here, whose human-book avatar was titled Himalayan Conservationist, says, “I am a person working on the Himalayas for conservation and for me it was an opportunity to reach out to people to explain to them how the state of affairs are in the Himalayas. About the model of tourism or development being completely lopsided and how we can correct it. It was an opportunity to interact with people, inspire them to be the change, and there were people who got in touch with us later and tried to pitch in what they could. The readers from varied backgrounds did have questions about my family life, finances etc.”

Another person who attended the event says, “I was a part of the 18 June event as a human book, and my title was Different and Able. As I am a cancer survivor and an amputee, it was all about the past two years of my life, how I went through the struggles and how I work on this. We had a variety of readers, adults, old-aged people, youngsters etc., with a humongous crowd who gave a great response.”

The readers at the 9 July event had to pre-register online and choose a slot for themselves, and therefore, this time no one missed an opportunity to talk to a “human book”. Among those readers who were undeniably moved and inspired were Shalini and Anup.

In India, the first Human Library event was held at the Indian Institute of Management, Indore in November 2016. 

Shalini says, “I never knew such things happen. It is a very beautiful concept and I loved it here. The best part was the session I had with the lady Preeti Monga, for the book The Road Less Taken. We attended four sessions and it was amazing with all of them because everybody has a different experience, but I was much more amazed to listen to her because she has been through a lot. She is such a motivating personality, so vibrant, it was amazing. We always talk about our struggles, but watching them here, talking about their struggles, while being vibrant and positive about it, was amazing. And it definitely motivates you, encourages you to fight and continue fighting with whatever you have.”

Anup says, “The concept is very good. You ask questions and they give you an answer. Plus a lot of emotions are conveyed when they tell their story. Some human books this time were based on blind people. They are disabled but they continue with their lives, they don’t ask for anything special from the society, but they do have something special to give to society.”

Others who were the pillars behind the success of the event were the volunteers who helped the readers with registration, guided them with their options, kept them engaged in games and also looked after the human books. Talking about Human Library, one of the volunteers, Gitika, says, “Human library is a great concept, and I have always been interested in knowing people instead of reading books, because  reading a book can be tiresome and you don’t know the history of that person.”

Aishwarya has been following Human Library for a long time and after being a reader at the first event, she signed up as a volunteer at the second event here. She says, “When you get to know someone’s story, from what they have been through and where they are now, it actually motivates you to do better in your life because you can always improve.”

Another volunteer for both the events, Abhijeet, says, “When I came into this, I had no idea people would be so attracted to this, but after the first event I met a few readers who were going through a lot in their life, depression, drug abuse, who told me their stories when I interacted with them, and many were motivated after talking to them, so that got me really hooked to this idea.”

After Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, Bangalore is now gearing up for its first ever Human Library event.

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