On a rainy afternoon in Bengaluru, a number of people made their way to Lahe Lahe, a performance space in Indiranagar.
Around 3PM, a few people sat around a makeshift reception desk. On its surface were eight colourful squares, which were arranged to represent the titles of eight books. The organisers took queries from a gaggle of readers and took down preferences for which book they wanted to read.
This is how the human library's Bengaluru chapter kicked off, with eight books and over 250 registered readers.
The concept of âhuman libraryâ originated in Denmark, and involves readers picking a book from a catalogue for a designated period of time. These books are people who tell their story to the readers, and the readers can ask questions too.
In south India, a human library event has been held in Hyderabad as well as Chennai. Much to the delight of Bengalureans, the concept finally came to the city on Sunday. The readers could pick their books, and a book would entertain not more than five readers at a time. The book and the readers would have about 20 minutes, before the book had to be âreturnedâ to the library, to be issued to the next set of readers.
Each of the eight books was from a different walk of life. A philosophy student, a software engineer, a blogger, a math wizard, a journalist to name a few, and each of them had a different story to tell.
The books spoke about stories of courage, of living with chronic illnesses like HIV, growing up with rare diseases and overcoming disability. Ideas like polyamory, bisexuality and drag were also discussed, as were marital rape, abuse, body shaming and trauma.
A man who lost his limb in a road accident shortly after his 17th birthday spoke about how the disability ended up enabling him, rather than disabling him. âI could have chosen to be limbless or limitless,â he told the rapt readers, âI chose to be the latter,â he smiled.
In another session, the readers learnt about Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune condition where the bodyâs immune system fails to recognise hair follicles as its own cells and attacks them, leading to spot baldness or complete baldness. They learnt what itâs like for a young girl to grow up with no hair, deprived of friendship and support, until she learnt to embrace her body and her condition.
âThe funniest reaction I have gotten from someone is, âOh, it would be so cool if you had a tattoo on your head!â the woman laughed.
Vasundhra, a 42-year-old art therapy facilitator, told TNM that she came to the event because she wanted to keep abreast with the ideas of the younger generation. âI have an 18-year-old daughter,â she offered by way of explanation. She found the idea of polyamory intriguing, but something that she is still wrapping her head around.
âPart of me thinks that it could be a phase that some youngsters go through when they want to experiment. But conversations like these are helpful. I am a little more open to the idea than I was before I came here,â Vasundhra conceded.
In another reading near Vasundhraâs, a book and his readers conversed about sexual abuse, rape and trauma. âI was always scared of intimacy and revealing the truth about my life. I used to build identities and live in a world that did not exist. I never invited my friendsâ home because I felt they would leave me if they witnessed the kind of life I lived. I have now realized that I did not accept what had happened to me. That was the problem,â he told the readers.
Madhura, a 25-year-old college student and reader said that the stories made her realise how important it is to listen and to be grateful. âWe tend to be self-obsessed, and think that our troubles are the biggest. But there are so many people who have been through so much. It is moving and inspiring to see them coming to terms with it, and healing in their own way,â she said.
For some, it was about setting aside judgements and the invisible blanket of societal norms and engage with difficult ideas. For others, the experience was more cathartic than anything else.
A reader said he had come to the human library because he was a survivor of physical abuse, and was HIV positive. âListening to the books talk about their struggle through rape and extreme physical abuse has got me thinking about finding a way to let go of the anger inside me. I used to think that no one would understand my struggle. Everyone has a story and sometimes we can learn from their truths as wellâ, he said.
When it came to discussions on gender and sexuality, some of the books and readers revealed that they wanted to come to the human library to meet others they could identify with.
âI was upset a few months ago with how my relationships were going. Part of the reason why I did this was to see if I could meet others who practiced polyamory tooâ, said a man who was attending the event as a book.
Abyan, a 24-year-old college student and reader, said that the experience had left him feeling both shocked and relieved. âI was shocked to see people talk about their sexuality so casually. I have been struggling with my own sexuality recently. I looked it up online and it seems like I am bisexual, but I donât know yet. This session with the books has made me realize a lot about myself,â he said.