Disclaimer: Not for the weakhearted. Caution advised. This is more like my Brandon Stanton moment (Humans of New York, if you are following)
It was a laidback Sunday afternoon when I walked into an event organised by The Human Library Bangalore. Just like a library, I was a reader here. The books, however, were real human beings. They ranged from substance abuse to sexual abuse. I selected two books — one on dictatorship and the other on polyamory. For a period of 45 minutes, I could join a table with five other readers, one volunteer and our book. He/ she would put forth their story and our questions were welcomed during or after they shared their story. Being open to a world of possibilities was the key here, but then when is it not?!!
Before the event formally kicked in, I interacted with another book who was going to discuss alopecia on another table. Alopecia is basically a health condition that involves sudden hair loss. So this lady was totally bald. I opened up to her about how my bald look was received among people when I went to Tirupati temple for two consecutive years and went bald for the heck of it (no mannat/ offerings involved). We had a good laugh over how some of my UberPool riders would maintain a distance while seating coz you never know who’s going through chemo! (they didn’t know cancer wasn’t contagious anyway)
In order to maintain the privacy of my books, I’ll refrain from giving specifics and give you a broad picture instead.
My first book was an African male, in his late twenties, who has been living in the city for the last four months to seek medical treatment for his ailing mother. He did his schooling in Saudi Arabia since his dad has been working there for the last three decades. However, he returned to his home country for his college. That’s where the trouble started. He secured an engineering degree and applied for government jobs. It was only two years later that he figured he’d never get one since one of his uncles had once protested against the ruling party. That led to blacklisting his entire clan from ever securing a government job.
He started his own company to work on electrical maintenance. Seven months into it and the income tax department officials showed up at his door to demand $7,000 in taxes. It was a figure the came out of the imagination of the officials, with absolutely no reason to suggest how they arrived at that figure. He refused and tried to reason with them. The next day, he was arrested by the police, beaten up in custody and finally rescued by his friend after settling for a bribe.
His youngest brother can never return to his nation since he protested against the student union which is powered by the ruling party. His friend’s brother has been missing for over a decade ever since he raised an alarm against the mismatch in oil production and export figures in a government -operated unit. Peaceful protests are not an option anymore since the ruling party is bound to plant a few miscreants who’ll burn placards and effigies, turn the protest violent and get everyone behind the bars or be shot down immediately. Each of the neighbourhoods has a ghost house which has no windows or tinted ones, nobody is ever seen walk in or step out, yet you can hear screams of people as they are tortured here. They are considered to be more effective than prisons to spread fear among the masses.
All online activities are under surveillance. People from his land are considered to be terrorists, so a majority of websites do not allow them to create an account for taking up remote work. An entire generation of people is growing up to become hopeless as they sign up to be a part of the ruling party. Coz if they don’t then being neutral is considered as being against the government. Everyone and everything is highly taxed to cover up for the national deficit. In terms of economic activities, people can mine gold anywhere and as much as they like, but it can only be sold to the government (at obvious dirt cheap prices).
He doesn’t want to seek asylum and escape his own homeland. He wants to help improve the lives of people around him too. He is devoid of resources but filled with hope. Those 45 minutes of my life on that table left me feeling grateful that we live in a democratic India (let’s not debate it against this backdrop).
My next book was someone who practised polyamory. He was a devout Muslim from Kerala who practised Islam until he was 18. Growing up, he turned agnostic. Social media site, Facebook triggered him to think about Relationships in a new light — in an open relationship, to be precise. He talked about challenges ranging from jealousy to insecurities and provided all of us with a different viewpoint on how people live and maintain relationships.
As the event came to a close, I felt richer listening to real life experiences and stories of people who are different than I am and have lived lives differently than I have. Yet we are all the same — humans with blood running in our veins, emotions showing on our faces and feelings that rule our hearts.
P.S. If you are in Bangalore, please drop me a line about interesting events that allow you to have a conversation.