On Sunday afternoon, a long queue of around hundred people waited for hours outside a building next to Regal Cinema, Connaught Place. Fanning themselves to beat the heat, many could be heard discussing which ‘book’ they found intriguing and which one they would ‘pick’ for themselves.
While street vendors cribbed about the queue hampering their business, some confused onlookers asked each other what was special about these books that had people queuing up on a weekend. Little did they know that it was Delhi’s first ‘Human Library’ that had caught people’s fancy.
The concept was started in Copenhagen by Ronnie Abergel, who saw it as a means of social change and discussion about marginalised communities. It soon gained momentum across the world and has since been held in 80 countries. In India too, it has previously been held in Indore, Hyderabad and Mumbai.
The Delhi Chapter at Innov8 saw 11 human ‘books’ narrating their personal stories — battling drug addiction (Another High), surviving cancer (Cancer Survivor), fighting domestic abuse (Break Free), becoming a tea-seller turned author (Tea Leaves and Books) and a female solo traveller (The Rover), among others. One reading lasted 20 minutes and accommodated five people.
People had started queuing up over an hour before the scheduled starting time at 2 pm, since becoming a ‘reader’ was to be decided on a first-come-first-serve basis. “My mother was very excited to come but she couldn’t register, I’ve cancelled all my plans to be here,” said Sukriti Gupta from Symbiosis International University, Pune.
Amarjeet Singh, a sexagenarian, was among those who wasn’t sure about the concept but still came. “I basically work on cancer (lymphocytes), and I was hoping they would have books on cancer, medicinal plants or someone who knows about cancer,” he said.
The queue ran across six shops and up three floors, making even the organisers jittery. Half an hour into the programme, Nishkarsh Kaushik, one of the organisers, confessed that the numbers had thrown them off. “We hope to hold this every weekend eventually. We were a little taken aback by the numbers but were able to accommodate around 950 people. We had to ask the ‘books’ to continue for an extra hour.”