Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | February 18, 2015 | 7.37 pm IST Follow @anisha_w Why does she try to find strangers to talk to every nearly every weekend?  Because she wants to try to get people to talk about things they are afraid to say in public. She runs the Humans of Bangalore Facebook page. Part of the motivation is that people have told her she’s too opinionated. Twenty-three-year-old Sreya Vittaldev started the Facebook page on an impulse after a discussion with a friend in February 2014. Since then, the page has 23,961 Likes. Sreya makes it a point to go out nearly every weekend to try and find strangers and talk to them. Sometimes, they have amazing stories to tell, and no objections to being photographed, resulting in a post on the Facebook page. Just once, she had to take down a photograph-story because objections arose later. “I want to break conformism through my page. I want people to talk about things they are afraid to say in public. Ranting on social media is different. I want people to talk because society is not compatible with receiving opinions. People are uncomfortable discussing things, like sexual orientations, or sexual preferences, or depression. If someone has depression, people will just ask them to be positive. I want people to be ok with sharing experiences,” Sreya says. There is, in fact, a story about a young woman who talks about: “certain medical illnesses that are invisible. Disabilities that don't manifest physically, things that are doable for regular people on a daily basis like just waking up and brushing their teeth, that aren't easy for people who have mental disabilities. I wish that a lot more people sympathetic to that sort of thing…” The young woman’s photograph shows a side profile. Many other photo-stories are, for lack of a better word, interesting. Like the man who says that people bargain in all shops except his, because he sells idols and photos of gods and goddesses and other religious paraphernalia. “They never question the price of religion, or what is being sold here. They just buy it. Even if I have to sell them a hundred rupees' picture of Ganesha, for two hundred, they'd buy it. No questions asked. There are some vendors in my business who do that, they make money where people come to buy faith. In the end, nobody knows if they've been able to find the answer to their prayers. But they keep coming back, asking for a different picture or a different sacred thread or a different puja item. So I guess, they're still trying to find faith,” the man says. These are all in the public domain, but she says that some of the stories are hers, accessible to those she has invited. On a solo travel trip, something she has recently begun to do, this marketing professional says, she heard a man singing Shakira’s “Hips don’t lie” on the banks of a lake in Alleppy, Kerala. She says she was on a backpacking trip to the backwaters of Kerala, and she saw a man swimming “quite happily”. “Suddenly, he vanished. Twenty minutes later, I head someone singing Hips Don’t Lie and I was like ‘Whoa… Wait a minute, is he singing Shakira?’”  The man’s name of Kannakutty, and he was in his 50s or 60s. He had been a prize-winning boat racer at the contests held on the Ponnamada Lake for around 30 years and had to give up because he no longer had the same stamina. It turns out he sang Elvis Presley songs too. Sreya says that talking to strangers this past year has made her less judgmental. “Earlier I would think that because someone did this or that, they were a certain way. I used to make fun of people (for some things), but I don’t like doing that anymore. You don’t know what they are going through, what their life is like.” Many people leave positive comments on the page, but there is a lot of sexism too. “I’ve had to take down certain sexist comments because the people in the stories sometimes eventually become my Facebook friends and it affects them,” she says. The negative comments have in no way put her off or discourage her though. “If there are so many comments, it means the stories are doing something.” Towards the end of the conversation, when this reporter asked her how old she was, she said: “Twenty-four.” After a pause, “Ok, 23. People often say that at 23 I’m too opinionated. So I thought I’ll try this. I’m almost 24,” she says with a part shy, part embarrassed, part awkward laugh. On the day this conversation took place, Sreya had put up a photo-story about a young woman who is a drummer in a rock band. Her parents are supportive, but she has a 6 pm curfew. (Photo Courtesy: Sreya Vittaldev)
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