KARISHMA MEHTA

1. FIRST THINGS FIRST, HOW DID HUMANS OF BOMBAY COME INTO EXISTENCE?
“I was 21, and I had just graduated from college. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, I hadn’t found my purpose. I didn’t think working in a bank was it. I just took a 6 months sabbatical. I had followed Humans of New York since college and when I first went on the platform, I spent hours a day just reading stories about people. My immediate reaction was to look up ‘Humans of Bombay’ and there was nothing. I just decided to start this as a project with a college friend of mine. One Sunday, we went to Marine Drive and the first Humans of Bombay shoot happened there. I was rejected 10 times before a person actually agreed to speak to me.”

2. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY OF TAKING HUMANS OF BOMBAY FROM A FACEBOOK PAGE TO A BOOK.
“It was a great experience, it was a lot of fun! Every page, every comma in the book has been designed mutually by the publishers and me. We are self-published. It was a really important learning process for me. Now I feel like when the second book is going to come out, it will be so much easier. I think it will take a quarter of the time it took originally!”

3. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA OF RAISING MONEY THROUGH YOUR PAGE TO HELP PEOPLE?DID YOU EVER THINK IT COULD BE HELPING IN WAYS WHICH ARE LARGER THAN LIFE ?
“We have a community in the Humans of Bombay which is very empathetic. We always look for ways to help people that we feature because we do a lot of street stories, kids from slums etc.
The first time I actually got into crowd-funding was when a friend of mine called Robin who runs Kranti (an organisation that works for daughters of sex workers), called me up and asked me for help. These are young girls who are about 12-17 year old. They had just moved into a new place and the landlord figured that they are daughters of sex workers. So, he threw them out of the house without giving any deposit back. It was very uncalled for and these young girls were just on the streets. So my friend asked if I could help these young girls by raising money. I wasn’t sure how it would be but there was no harm in trying. So I featured a young girl from Kranti who is proud of her mother being in the sex trade. She didn’t look down upon her mother. Robin said she required 5 lakh and we ended up raising 6.5 lakh and we actually had to shut the campaign down. People were just so empathetic to the story of the girl!”

4. WHEN YOU ASK PEOPLE TO TELL ABOUT THEIR STORY, WHAT IS YOUR QUESTION USUALLY? HOW DO YOU GET THEM TO SHARE STORIES THAT ARE SO PERSONAL?
“It initially starts of as a conversation like ‘Hi, how are you?’, ‘where are you from?’, ‘what do you do?’ etc. Then it leads to more intimate questions like- ‘what is the happiest moment of your life?’, ‘what was the saddest moment of your life?’ or ‘what do you fear’?. People tend to open up if you really care. We’ve had conversations up to an hour with complete strangers on the streets of Bombay.”

5. FROM ALL THE STORIES YOU DOCUMENTED, WHICH ONE IS STILL STUCK WITH YOU?
“I had interviewed a Parsi couple. The woman was 98 and the man was 99. They had known each other since they were 7 years old. They lived through 2 wars together. The story of their friendship and love is what is till stuck with me. Before he turned 100, the uncle passed away. I met the lady recently, she turned 100 and she told me- ” I’m living for the both of us now but I can’ wait to get re-united with him”. It’s amazing how even in death, she is thinking about being with him.”

6. FOR HUMANS OF BOMBAY, WHAT’S NEXT?
“We are expanding. We are looking into covering stories nationally and internationally. We have the book, more films coming out and we are also getting more into crowd funding. It is actually just at the cusp of reaching stage 2. We just got our office space. We are all excited to create something!”

7. WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS OF CHOOSING AND ASKING PEOPLE ABOUT THEIR STORY?
“There is no process really. All you have got to do is get a person’s story about by making them comfortable enough. We just try to make everything like a conversation!”

8. WHAT IS THAT ONE BIGGEST TAKE AWAY THAT YOU WOULD WANT YOUR READERS TO TAKE FROM YOUR BOOK?
“Just be human. It is so important today to have that humane touch and level of emotion. We are surrounded by so much negativity all the time that it can make you believe that the world is not a nice place. We just want people to believe that there is humanity left.”

9. YOU MUST HAVE COME ACROSS A LOT OF STORIES ABOUT HARDSHIPS AND FAILURES, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR MESSAGE TO YOUR READERS WHO HAVE PROBABLY SEEN BETTER TIMES IN THEIR LIVES?
“We have come across a lot of people who have hardships, people who have dealt with death and loss. The true essence of everything is that people don’t give up. That is a vital message ! It could be bad, it could be worse but giving up should never be an option.”

10. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST LEARNING FROM THE ENTIRE EXPERIENCE?
“The entire journey has re-instilled my faith that if you have the courage to follow your passion, it will work. Sometimes if you believe in yourself and your dreams, it goes a long way.”

11. PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT THE WORLD THAT WE LIVE IN, HAS BECOME A BIG BAD PLACE. DO YOU THINK IT IS ACTUALLY AS BAD OUT THERE?
“I think there is hope for everyone. Humanity exists! When we raised 25 lakhs overnight for an acid attack victim or any other cause for that matter, we got in donations from all around the world. People donated from 50 rupees to 3 lakhs rupees.Things like these make you believe that humanity does exist. It is time that we highlight more of it.”

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