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Reading people

  • Published at 05:01 pm May 17th, 2018
  • Last updated at 07:41 pm May 17th, 2018
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Photo: Courtesy

A personal account from the Human Library Dhaka Session Three

The sign on the wall said “No silence please, this is a human library”. Surrounded by the colourful walls of Jatra Biroti, groups of people sat on bright floor cushions, surrounding a “book”, while “librarians” coordinated each “reading session”. No pages were turned, and yet, everyone got a story out of the experience. This was certainly not your regular library.

This was my experience of the third session of the Human Library. It had all the elements of a regular library, with only one exception. As you may have guessed already, the “books” are not paper-bound, but actual human beings. Much like a book, they told stories to the ‘readers’, who sat rapt as the narratives unfolded.

Each reader had access to a maximum of two “books”, so that everyone got a chance to read. I waited eagerly for my session with my assigned reading.

There was a book who told stories of a difficult childhood with a stepmother, the experience of studying at a local Madrasah, and being forbidden by his father to be a part of mainstream higher education. When he did manage to win over the odds and join Dhaka College, some of his important belongings were taken away by bullies at the hostel, and he was badly beaten up. His story was about persistence and perseverance, and an inspiring one that told us that none of us are alone in our struggles.

There was another book – this time someone I personally knew. I was fascinated to learn the chain of events in his life, and resulting realizations that made him the person I admire today. Growing up in a joint family, standing up to local bullies after being repeatedly harassed, experiencing life at a boarding school, and championing all odds to continue pursuing his dreams, one of the inspiring messages he gave his ‘readers’ was, much like a tree, we must let our roots grow inwards, but allow our branches to spread out to the world.

Photo: Courtesy

Indeed, the experience lived up to the tagline, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. The first book I sat with was a soft-spoken person, with a very meek attitude, and going by appearance alone, it would be difficult to imagine him having the strength to cope with the intense pressures that he had. Even the second book, as familiar as had been to me, surprised me with the “plot twist” in his personal narrative. Each story was fascinating and unique, and surprisingly relatable.

Requesting anonymity, one of the participants said that he wanted his audience to get inspired by his stories of how he continued to move forward despite one obstacle after another. “You feel lighter when you share your story with someone. The most special thing about Human Library is that, you meet people here who want to listen to your story. The readers come with a hunger and eagerness to listen. The environment is interactive,” he added.

Saleh Uz Zaman, one of the other readers, said, “The Human Library initiative intrigued me because, here, people from different social strata, age, and gender tell their stories, the difficulties that they have faced, continue to face, and anticipate that they are going to face, to their readers. This is a way to create empathy among the people of the society. Also, one person’s story will never match another’s, because they are so unique.”

Mushfiquzzaman Khan, one of the organizers, talked about why they organized Human Library in Bangladesh. “As the tagline says, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, we want people not to judge each other without knowing their stories. A lot of problems happen in our society because people do not understand each other. We are providing here a platform for people to come and understand each other.”

Going down the line, the organizers want to take the initiative in regions outside Dhaka, because there are so many stories in so many people everywhere. Also, they have plans to connect books and readers of other countries with Bangladesh through the internet.

Human Library was developed in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000 by Ronni Abergel, his brother Danny, and colleagues Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen. Since then, it has spread to many countries, including India and Pakistan. Human Library Dhaka was founded and organized by Mushfiquzzaman Khan, Upoma Rashid, Rifa Tasfia Khan and Rafsanul Haque Hridoy.