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Verve Trendsetters
April 29, 2016

Karishma Mehta On The Power Of A Facebook Page

Text by Wyanet Vaz

“The Humans of Bombay cover photo was made using a collage-maker, and the logo on Microsoft Word.” Karishma Mehta recollects each of the 1000 stories she has covered, and tells us about the inspiring journey

With over 500,000 likes on Facebook, Karishma Mehta’s Humans of Bombay is an insight into the inspirational world of ordinary people. Motivated by Humans of New York, the business graduate from Nottingham University, returned to India with the idea of replicating the concept. “I feel that if my page can impact even one life, it’s worth it. So far, it has impacted a million lives, and that is reason enough to tell a better story every day.” With the recent launch of her book, the 24-year-old talks to us about the firsts in her project, challenges and impactful stories.

The first story…
“I got rejected quite a few times. People were not ready to speak to me. But, there was this old lady selling neembu paani who spoke to me for about 30 to 45 minutes, told me all about her life—her deepest secrets, financial crises and problems she was facing with her husband. Even without knowing who I was, she could share that part of her with me. That was the first.”

Why it woks…
“I actually think it’s easy for you to tell a stranger your story, because no one is judging you. They don’t know you. That is why Humans of Bombay is so strong. We don’t know the people, we don’t judge, we just tell their story as it is.”

An unforgettable memory…
“With barely 10 stories in the bank, I made the Humans of Bombay Facebook page on January 28, 2014. The cover photo was made using a collage-maker and the logo on Microsoft Word.  I launched it with three stories on the first day at 07:30 pm in the evening, and before 12am, we had over a 1000 organic likes. I will never forget that.”

The count…
“We have documented stories of over 1000 people. The book too, has exclusive stories that don’t feature on the Facebook page.”

A story that had to be told…
“It is of an acid victim named Sheila. She was doused with acid by her employee, who also started sexually harassing her. When she decided to quit, he threw acid at her. That man is still free. Somebody who has taken away this woman’s eyesight, disfigured her, and completely broken her spirit has escaped any sort of punishment. I feel that such a story needs to be told.”

Biggest learning…
“It is funny that we crib about unnecessary things in life. While I was out there documenting stories, I found that there are so many people who find it difficult to have two square meals a day. I interviewed a girl who lives in slums and was looked down upon and called a prostitute. She was the only woman in her entire family who got formal education and had to break a barrier to get that. There are so many things that we take for granted like the right to education and the right to freedom. It may be easy for you, but it’s a huge problem for a lot of people in our country. When I came to Bombay, this made me grateful for everything that I would otherwise take for granted.”

Best piece of advice…
“My dad always tells me, ‘Listen to everything that’s being told, and then do what you have to’. I think Humans of Bombay has made me a good listener. I listen to everything that people have to say. They have all kinds of advice to give—on where to go, how to go there, and what needs to change.”

The biggest challenge…
“We are not a commercial platform. As a 21-year-old student out of college, one would normally care about getting a Master’s degree or a job, but I began this project. Two or three months after Humans of Bombay just started, people came and asked me, ‘How are you going to make money?’ And, I actually had no answer to their question. I just knew that passion is enough, and if people resonated with my passion, it would get me somewhere. So I just kept at it, and we finally launched the book, which is our first monetary step.”

The big book of stories…
“The reason that I decided to come up with the book is very far from commercial. It is to reach an audience that is not necessary digital. While the youth are tech-savvy and log on to Facebook, a lot of people don’t. I feel that so many stories have created such a huge impact to thousands of people, that there needs to be another format to reach out to the rest.”

The next step…
“I want to get into different forms of media and try different things. The first tangible thing that we are doing is the book. But I am going to be getting into videos, a lot of live events and radio shows.”

Inspirations…
“I get fuelled by the impact that my posts have generated. People have healthy arguments and conversations on a platform like mine. I get messages from my readers telling me, ‘I look forward to your post everyday’. If you keep going home to somebody, it’s a special feeling. If you can give somebody the feeling of hope, I don’t think anything else can feel better.”

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