Human Library: No pin drop silence here


Life, More Features

The idea, which originated in Denmark in 2000, has been replicated in over 80 countries now.

Human books are volunteers, selected and trained by HL. (Photo: Pixabay)

New Delhi: Enjoy listening to stories but don't feel like picking up a book? Then you could perhaps turn to people who are reading their lives out to avid ears.

A group of such people, called human books, regaled a gathering recently and is planning another session on Sunday. They are part of an initiative called the Human Library (HL), which has been promoting real life story telling.  Just like a conventional library, books - but, in this case, real people - are loaned to readers for 20 minutes or so. The borrowers can choose their "books" -- on issues that range from ecology to domestic abuse and travel.

The idea, which germinated in Denmark in 2000, has been replicated in over 80 countries now. In India, New Delhi is the fourth stop for HL, after sessions in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Indore. The next round is to be held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts here on July 9.

At the New Delhi debut, there were 11 human books waiting to tell a story. The narrators were not known by their names, but the titles of their books. A book called 'Tea Leaves and Books' was the story of a tea-seller turned author, 'Break Free' referred to domestic abuse and gender equality, 'The Rover' was on a woman rider who had traversed 17 countries and 'Different and Able' told the story of a person who had lost a part of the body.

"The book has to come from a background of being discriminated against, stereotyped, prejudiced or should be representing some sort of a stigma. This was the basic idea of having a human library," says Neha Singh, Book Depot Manager at HL. "Also, we want the book to be comfortable about their stories."

With these free-of-charge interactive processes, HL also seeks to sensitise the reader on such issues. "It is a two-way communication system, with feelings and expressions from both the ends. And that is much better than just reading a conventional book in a written format," 'Different and Able' says.

Human books are volunteers, selected and trained by HL.  "When we started out people didn't know about the concept at all, so we reached out in our immediate circles, asked around with friends and then in their circles. That's how we got our first few books," Singh says.

Once the concept was on social media sites such as Facebook, volunteers offered to tell their stories.  "There were many people who wanted to be a book. We screened them and their stories - and that's how we found these 11 books," she says.

A human book has to be articulate, Singh says, but HL also trains them on ways to narrate a story.  "In our training sessions with books we tell them to talk about their story in a most objective manner. The idea is not to get sympathy from the people coming in, but to educate them about the choices made," Singh says.

At the "book reading" in Delhi, there were 10 sessions per book, and each session consisted of storytelling by the book, followed by questions from the listeners or readers.  Shreya Sahai, a student who picked 'Himalyan Conservationist' for herself, says she missed out on asking questions because she was too absorbed in the story.

Answering a battery of queries, 'Different and Able' says the human books are wary of "uncomfortable questions" being put by readers, but the reply, "Sorry, the chapter is not included in this book", always works for them.  "My best moment was when a mother-daughter duo came and the mother asked me to pen down my feelings in a sentence for her daughter so that it would give her motivation at this young age," Different and Able' says.

But will this concept challenge or complement conventional books, which are already been threatened by e- books? Human books believe that it will make people realise how a story can help one lead a peaceful life, and egg them on to read more.  "Human Library is not meant to replace books. But it is going to play a part in bringing people back to the human touch," says the book 'Himalyan Conservationist'.

The concept appeals to Shreya.  "I'd pick a human book as conventional books are written by people, after all. So it makes more sense to directly go to the source of the ideas in it," she says.