Life stories

Photo courtesy: The Human Library

“A great library contains the diary of the human race.”

A Human Library lends you a walking, talking “book” so you can hear things firsthand. You simply join the stream of people heading for the same “book” and listen.

The idea of humans as “books” might seem novel, but it began 17 years back in Denmark, with the simple premise that we all have stories to share. The Mumbai chapter, which is celebrating a one-year anniversary, holds events once a month at different venues.

The one at Title Waves in Bandra had books as diverse as a diabetic chef, a deaf mother, an orphan, a woman battling clinical depression and more. So how does it work? You scan through the book list, which comes with short descriptions, and pick one. As any lending library, you then get the card stamped. Mere paper, it is scribbled with your name, book title and in and out time.

Like their written counterparts, the “books” function differently – some choose to share stories, some engage in questions. The simple aim being to break stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.

Given the rush, the only book I could lay my hands on was called  ‘The Stereotyped Muslim”. Almost as if on cue, the questions began. “What does Islam say about women?” “Is hijab compulsory?” “Can you explain jihad?” The book – a young Muslim girl –  smiled before taking us back to the times of Prophet Mohammed. She spoke of his wife Aisha whilst debating the role of women in Islam, of hijab then and now, and even managed to explain the etymology of jihad. It took all of 20 minutes to assuage some of the lingering doubts about the community, at least on the face of it. Concurrently, other ‘books’ were clearing misconceptions, talking of their experiences and life journeys.  Right alongside us was “Beard Bun Bandana”, a backpacker recounting the various prejudices faced across India.

So is it like reading a book? No. But it is a chance to engage with people on unconventional topics and come back a little richer as with every visit to the library.

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