On 2nd October, 2017 STEP Trust collaborated with Aagaaz and organized किस्से Connection in Lodhi Garden, as a culmination of our 12 day Peace Festival Jashn-e-Aman.
The topic of the event was ‘Bridge the Gap’, which focused on stories of navigating identities to understand issues of class, caste, gender, region, religion, and aspiration. The preparation for this event started a week before- on 25th of September when Nishant Paul held a short orientation workshop with our human books, at the Aagaaz office in Nizamuddin. We played a game called ‘Zombie’ and laughed a lot before we started to discover each others’ stories. The Aagaaz team and STEP team spent the next few days on the creation of registration forms with the audio recordings and eventually reached out to readers.
There were 10 books in total and around 25 readers who gathered on a beautiful Monday evening at Lodhi Gardens, over some tea and cake. The event started with some warm activities, followed by one-on-one book readings and a debriefing session. This intimate experience brought people from many walks of lives, together and gave them a glimpse into each others’ narratives.
Here is a reflection by one of the readers Paramjeet Bernad an entrepreneur who runs women’s vocational training centre in Uttam Nagar:
“As one of the readers, I found this concept to be an interesting and connecting experience. I discovered that everyone’s life stories are similar and every journey resonates with mine. I find such interpersonal reading has capacity to bring people together to understand the value of human life. It also brings about a sense of interconnectedness which might be helpful to bridging the gap between two communities or two people.”
Rajat was one of the human books and this what he had to say about his experience:
“As a person who loves to read, the word library is no less than an aphrodisiac. So when Shreya told me about this human library project I immediately registered for it. The theme- ‘Bridging the gap’, difficult but also interesting. It made me and my fellow books think of an incident in our lives where we overcame bias/prejudice/ignorance or any other experiences along these lines. For me it was ignorance, a life event which had recently opened my eyes to a greater reality of gender equality and one’s chosen identity. Putting my memory and lessons learned onto paper and then recording it was a unique experience. I was really excited to be borrowed. My title “She is not the man” was well received. I was happy to answer the borrowers’ questions and some of their questions gave me a fresh perspectives into things. I received healthy feedback and priceless comments. The session also got the books to interact with each other which is unique to library of human books. The whole process of human library and the interactions turned out to be an exhilarating experience for me. Thank you everyone!”
Aagaaz has been growing in so many ways. Our work has diversified and we’re in constant need of support to be able to ensure that rent, salaries and stipends are given on time. This is what led to the formation of ‘Friends of Aagaaz‘. While we’re still in the lookout for people who align with our values and would like to offer support, we know that we couldn’t make it this far without those who have already pledged to be a part of this journey. This meet was an endeavor to (re)introduce them to the work that has been happening.
The poetic invitation, doing justice to the importance this event holds for us, brought together an eclectic mix of people together on the evening of 27th August. Sanyukta, Devika, Nishant along with the core group members worked tirelessly to create an impressive visual display of the various programs.
This with the hope that the tree grows as the programs expand.
True to their word, all our friends turned up with food fit for a feast. The homemade caramel custards and masala idlis spoil us rotten. So did the coconut bread from a bakery in Nizamuddin basti. After the informal introductions, as promised, the presentation of the work began. Taking forward the tradition of Aagaaz, we could not have settled down for just a talk. A session of किस्से connection ensured that all the people who have been involved in the journey of the program got an opportunity to talk about their personal journey. The members became books, some for the first time and the friends were the readers for the evening. The members answered questions ranging from their association with Aagaaz to their thoughts about the program as well as their hopes and aspirations.
After two rounds of conversations, everyone settled to watch performances. First one was Urban Turban, a performance initially conceptualized for Gender Bender 2016 in Bangalore. The performance looked at everyday lives of young girls and their experiences of living in and navigating the basti. This was followed by Duniya Sabki, a play based on a poem by Sadar Hashmi with the same name. The premise of play being Akbar expressing ownership over the palace he considers rightfully his’, yet being humbly reminded that either it belongs to everyone or no one. Pertinent in the current environment, the play merges this with the everyday experiences of children, raising so many questions. Does the city/its banks/its parks/its roads belong to some more than the others? The performances culminated in a round of applause and followed by questions from the viewers.
The meet was heartening to us in so many ways. Each person has interacted with the group in their own way, however for the first time, so many of them came together. It opens up another forum for us to implement programs and come back to a space, not just to report but to reflect on our own processes.
किस्से Connection started as Aagaaz’s attempt to get people interested in each other’s stories. It opened up a platform for the community at Khirkee, to engage with one another in a unique manner. We have now had multiple events, an increasing number of books and a growing number of readers. With support and space from KHOJ International Artists Association, we are happy to share the evolving journey of these events.
Our objective has always been to facilitate one-on-one conversations between two people- one being the book and the other being the reader. The readers listen to small excerpts of the books and then let their curiosity guide them. They ask the book questions and gradually unpack the details of the personal experiences. These often lead to moments of new discoveries and resonance.
Recently, we have been trying different methods of inviting people for this event. A song had been created and our organizing team went into the community to capture people’s attention. This brought in a different flavor to the process and probed us to be more innovative. We are feeling very enthusiastic about trying new ideas.
Additionally, we discovered this extremely interesting recharge shop that became our major hub for publicity. The shop belongs to Swati who is working on getting different communities in Khirkee to consume each other’s media. This unique exchange portal has already opened up possibilities of community engagement and we are encouraged and supported by its existence.
The number of readers from the local community is gradually increasing and a clear association has been made between किस्से Connection and KHOJ. Sometimes it’s interesting to just look up and see the visitors at KHOJ, who come there to work or get coffee and effortlessly become inquisitive observers of a peculiar process.
किस्से Connection has become an experiment of sorts that brings value in its own unique way. Our friend Hector attends the events to study the fascinating nature of how stories connect people. In addition to that, our core group of adolescents from Nizamuddin has also found a new avenue to learn about stories, organizing and facilitation.
We are on a mission to create bridges, opportunities and engagements for the local community. Our design is therefore flexible and perpetually evolving. We have now started using translators in our sessions to ensure that language doesn’t become a limiting barrier. In the future, we look forward to doing this in more visible and open spaces to make it more accessible. We are also considering possibilities of creating visual depictions of excerpts and more elaborate orientations that would allow our readers to connect effortlessly.
Have you been to a library that breathes?
Have you ever read a book that changes its narrative as you read it?
Think this would only be possible in a work of fantasy?Well, we have made it a reality. In a world where we inhabit reality through multiple screens, where conversations are few and chats, emails, likes, and shares, are aplenty, we create a unique experience of finding the multitude of stories that makes each one of us. We are stories – each and every one of us. We are intricate stories that change and reshape as soon as it connects with any other story – our own or someone else’s.
In collaboration with Khoj we have facilitated किस्से connections 4 times over the last two months in Khirki. It is a space to get conversations going amongst the most unlikeliest of people. We reach out to people far and wide as well as within the community and seek madhatters who volunteers to be books. These volunteers pick an experience/memory from their lives and give it a title, record a short synopsis and send it our way. On the day of the event, readers throng our library, listen to synopses and pick the book they want to ‘read’. At their turn, they sit facing their ‘book’ and read the story by asking questions to the book. The depth of the story read is the responsibility of the reader. The right kinds of questions open up the doors to magical realisations.
We have created a collection of 22 books to date and more than 80 people have visited our breathing libraries. Intriguing conversations and deep realisations aside, किस्से Connection has begun creating a space for people to talk to ‘others’ – a space that allows for an emotional connection with those we never thought could share our own lived experiences.
We are hoping to spread these germs of connecting and even empathising with strangers far and wide.