20 Minutes With a Book That Talked Back
What would you want to read, if someone truly was an open book?
This question was firmly on my mind when I showed up at Bangalore's collective creative space, Lahe Lahe, on August 27th. I had come for Bangalore's first Human Library experience, a concept that originated in Denmark and that has been held in Hyderabad as well. It offers visitors insight into people who ordinarily might not get to share their stories as directly, and was organized for Lahe Lahe by Ria Andrews.
There was a crowd around the registration table, and a pile of shoes by the door. I gave my name, and was asked to choose a book. There was a collection of about eight covers there, with titles like, “Engineer,” “Blogger,” or “Philosophy Student.” Which one to choose?
I made the rookie mistake of judging the books by their covers, and was led inside. I had hoped it would be one person per book, but it was a crowded event. Each book had about 5 readers. Our books spoke, introducing themselves and what they wanted to talk about, and then opening up the table for questions until time was up.
The cover that said “Philosophy Student” held a surprising but open discussion of polyamory. I remember admiring the patience of the book as he explained to us what it's like being involved with more than one romantic partner. He was a book with illustrations, little charts to help explain the concept of polyamory. The readers at the table had a lot to say about love, and we may have gone a little bit over time but hey, that's amoré.
The second book I’d chosen at random, but which I am sure just said “Engineer” turned out to be the story of a man with a deeply violent past gaining self-acceptance and peace through theater (though, to be fair, he had been an engineering student at one point). His was a story of remarkable positivity and strength. This was a person who refused to let the violence of their past define them, while still having come to terms with it. There were moments akin to awkward pauses at that table, and in a normal conversation, things would end there. But when you know you only have 20 minutes with a person who's willing to answer all your questions, I think we were all spurred to ask more questions than we would otherwise venture forth.
I admire the books I got to read. Their openness, their honesty, their willingness to share their story with complete strangers. I’m a little glad I wasn’t reading alone, because it’s one thing to read a book, but completely different to be reading one that’s looking right back at you.
Written by Armaan Babu
Featured image credit: Lahe Lahe