Delhi has an unfaltering ability to make things, events, lose their charm simply by the massive number of people who turn up to be part of them. When I prepared myself to spend a day at the Human Library event in Connaught Place, one of the most active parts of the city, I had my apprehensions. An event where you can ‘borrow’ people instead of books and hear them narrate their stories instead of reading them off the paper holds immense potential for selfies, check-ins and other social media updates.
Having reached the venue way before the event started, I got the chance to peep into the behind-the-scenes preparation. An unexpected number of people had turned up as could be witnessed by the steadily increasing frenzy of the volunteers. Oh no, was it time to make a run for the door? Too late, I told myself.
However not only did the event turn out to be the exact opposite of what I had imagined it to be, it ended up being something much, much better.
I met an artefact collector who has 15 vintage cars, about 71 typewriters, over a dozen different kinds of camera lenses from different decades and an assorted set of contraptions I could not name or identify. I met a Himalayan conservationist whose girlfriend waited 18 years to get married to him (they got married three years ago)! I met a visually impaired boy who’s a Hindustani art aficionado and who said that my name reminds him of a snowy evening in Kashmir. And this was only the beginning.
One could see there was no ease for the volunteers any time soon. Striking a conversation with them revealed that they were part of the event because they had heard about it from a friend or over social media, and they couldn’t think of a better way to spend their Sunday. There were no monetary incentives involved. One of the volunteers was even a human book for the same event in another city.
The readers sitting in the waiting area were constantly kept preoccupied by interactive games being spearheaded by volunteers, who refused to get intimidated by the ever-increasing crowd outside. What stood out the most amidst all the energy and hullabaloo was the books’ undaunted desire to interact with readers.
Each book would interact with readers for a session of twenty-minutes. There were a total of ten sessions per book.
All the sessions that I attended were extended by the books since they enjoyed interacting with us. Another book let go of its break from readers to interact with me.
There were stories of travel, mental disorders and child abuse. There were stories of forgotten typewriters from the 1920s, cancer survivors and the struggle to find a life of sobriety after a period of drug addiction. But most importantly, there were stories of love, hope and a massive collective of people sharing their experiences to break barriers and stereotypes.
Above all, however, in the four hours that I spent at the venue, there was not a single attempt at a selfie.