Remember going to the park near your house to play football as a kid? Or the pure, unfiltered joy of getting drenched in the rain?
These experiences, perhaps, have now almost been wiped away by rapid digitization. Human touch has vanished into thin air. Our sorrows remain bottled up and often give rise to depression and anxiety. No matter how wide a space social media gives us to express our feelings, in truth, there are few people to genuinely lend a shoulder for us to cry on, or an ear to let us pour our hearts out.
All of us have realised how this deep-rooted problem is creating a gap between human beings, but it is 28-year-old Ayush Keshri, an alumnus of Banaras Hindu University, who stepped in to create a real change.
Recognising the need to bridge the gap between human beings created by today’s digital world, Ayush has given Varanasi its very first ‘Human Library Cafe’.
The Human Library Cafe, situated near the Durga Kund Temple in Varanasi, was set up by a startup headed by Ayush, which has received support from the Indian Institute of Technology-BHU.
Speaking with Platocast, Ayush says: “I did my graduation in Journalism from Delhi University. During my college days, I had the opportunity to interact with several renowned personalities, including Javed Akhtar, Kailash Kher, CNR Rao and Pandit Birju Maharaj. Talking to them shaped my vision and made me understand the importance of storytelling, and the significance of human touch in our everyday life.”
“The last four years of my life went into shaping Varanasi’s first Human Library Cafe. Some other people helped me set up the cafe, and they belong to different age groups. Our aim is to build a space where people can read books, connect with each other, talk, open up and share ideas. In the cafe, we have over 10,000 books on varied topics that people can read, but the place is ruled by “human books”,” he adds.
Ayush opens up on how the Human Library Cafe, which was opened in the beginning of April this year, works.
“On Mondays and Tuesdays, we hold workshops in the cafe where people from different backgrounds come to share their life experiences and give career advice to the younger generation. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, we encourage people to perform and showcase their talents — dancing, singing, writing, acting etc. In the evenings of the last three days of the week, people come and read, interact with each other, create bonds, encourage conversations and share experiences. Authors, doctors, professors, scientists, government officials and people from several other domains are invited to hold interactive sessions,” Ayush explains.
“People have lost the ability to share their feelings with each other. Social media has taken over and it does little to create genuine bonds between human beings. People may go to pubs and enjoy themselves, they may watch movies on their gadgets, but nothing can beat the beauty of one-on-one interactions between people. This cafe will let you pour your heart out,” he adds.
To run the cafe, food and beverages that are part of the menu cover the everyday expenses. Besides, a subscription programme is also run for three months, where people can become members, get access to the events and avail discounts on buying books and food for a period of as many as 90 days.
“The cafe has very recently been set up and is attracting a lot of people who are appreciating the initiative. However, I know that in reality, it is difficult to sustain a place like this as many people do not understand or appreciate the importance of human connection and interaction. The challenge, therefore, is unavoidable. I have taken it up happily,” Ayush says.
With time, Ayush plans to expand the initiative and set up similar Human Library Cafes in other parts of the country as well.