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Have you ever been to a human library?

By Nikita Puri
August 02, 2017 12:58 IST
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The Human Library project brings together people from all walks of life to interact with 'talking books', discovers Nikita Puri.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Human books

Over the past year, Hyderabad-based theatre director Akram Feroze has repeated a particular story more times than he can count.

Every time he begins narrating this story, he gauges his audience sitting across the table carefully.

Feroze might tweak his style, but his story never strays from the truth.

Two years ago, Feroze set out on an ambitious plan: To hitch-hike and cover over 10,000 km along the villages on India's borders.

'Kutch to Kolkata', he called it.

The goal was to interact with people in border towns and talk to them about a 'world without borders'.

But weeks into his journey, Feroze was detained by the police in Jaisalmer because he seemed 'suspicious'.

As he recollects his detention and continues to talk about the warmth of the locals he met, the conversation on the next table is as different as black is from white.

Seated here is Haleem Khan, a Kuchipudi exponent for 19 years.

Khan has spent the last seven years doing female impersonations. It is "the only true form of Kuchipudi," he insists.

From the ones who've seen him in action to complete strangers, people have queued up in an event in Hyderabad loaded with questions for him.

How hard was it for Khan to keep his ghungroos hidden behind books, they ask the MBA graduate.

How do his parents react when he goes on stage as a female character?

What does his religion say about his work?

What about his sexuality?

"Initially, I was very apprehensive about doing this event," confesses Khan.

"An artist's life usually shuffles between the green room and the stage," he says.

Like Feroze, Khan is one of the 35 'books' registered with the Human Library Hyderabad.

The Human Library project, explains Harshad Dinkar Fad, founder of the Hyderabad chapter, brings together people from all walks of life to interact with 'talking books'.

"These are people who have inspiring stories," he explains.

For instance, one of the 'books' is a person who talks about how to cope with divorce based on their personal experience.

The concept of a Human Library was founded in Denmark in 2000.

The idea is to hold events and throw open one-on-one sessions where a 'reader' can ask the 'book' questions on subjects that are ignored or brushed away.

The movement has now spread to over 70 countries.

The fact that the movement is spreading like wildfire in India too comes as no surprise, says Neha Singh, founder of the Delhi chapter. "We are now open to the things that once used to divide us," she says.

Their first event (in mid-June) saw close to 700 readers.

Indore, Pune, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Surat, Chennai and Chandigarh are just some of the cities where the movement has started gaining traction. These events are free and everyone involved works on a voluntary basis.

The Hyderabad chapter's self-help section has human books about fighting depression.

Then there is a 'book' on the LGBTQ community where chapters include the struggle of being "accidentally outed" in college.

The 'life and career' section has a self-taught architect, a call centre operator, and another on what it means to serve in the army in current times.

Delhi's library includes a conservationist while another 'book' focuses on how they battled cancer.

The 'religion and philosophy' section has a practising Buddhist.

Another 'book' is a man who has been carefully collecting what most regard as junk for two decades: Old phones, for instance.

To check out a human book, or to be one, find your local Human Library on Facebook or Instagram.

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Nikita Puri
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