Published Apr 13, 2017 09:33am

Iranians, Pakistanis share history but still don’t know each other, says Humans of Tehran photographer

Behrad Nafisi Mistry is on his first visit to Pakistan and intends to come again for more Pakistani stories
Behrad Nafisi Mistry is on his first visit to Pakistan and intends to come again for more Pakistani stories

Behrad Nafisi Mistry runs the popular Facebook page ‘Humans of Tehran’ and wants to present the stories of Iran that the world does not get to hear about.

He is a freelance photographer, travel writer and is a research fellow in English and cultural studies at the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

Dawn caught up with the 29-year-old in Rawalpindi as he travels across the country.

This is your first time in Pakistan. How has your experience been so far?

My grandmother was born and raised in Karachi before partition, after which she migrated to Bombay. I grew up hearing stories of the region as it was before partition and have heard about places like the Zoroastrian Bahrana Fire Temple, Express Market and Saddar so I had a positive image of Pakistan.

My father was born in Bombay but he moved to Tehran where he married my mother just before the Islamic revolution in Iran. That is why I consider myself a quarter Pakistani, a quarter Indian and half Iranian.

Related: Looking back at Karachi's Irani cafe culture

I must say most people in Iran do not know much about Pakistan though both countries share so much history and culture. They do not know the real Pakistan which I have experienced during my short stay here and I would like to portray this Pakistan through my photographs and writings back home. So far, they are amazed.

"Language is a big barrier, especially when you are trying to explain the purpose of your photography to someone who does not speak the same language. But the people in Pakistan are not shy and they nod happily even before I have asked permission to photograph them."

How did Humans of Tehran come about?

Humans of Tehran is run by three photographers and was founded in 2012. When my friend Seerin Barghi’s father passed away, she had a breakdown and cut herself off from the world. We encouraged her to listen to other people’s stories and eventually, we started gathering these stories and posting them online for everyone to read. Together, we worked towards showing the stories of Tehran to the world.

Iranians talk a lot; they talk about politics, the weather, and society, everything but themselves. It is like having a mask on your face and it is very difficult to get that mask off. You cannot just randomly photograph someone at a public place as well. So we start a conversation with someone, spend some time with them till they open up and share their stories. There is also the language barrier as the older generation has difficulty understanding English and do not know what Humans of Tehran is about.

"It is sad that we Iranians fly over Pakistan while travelling to India or southeast Asian countries and Pakistanis fly over Iran while travelling to Turkey and other western countries but the citizens of both do not visit the other country. We do not know each other."

How many countries have you travelled to for Humans of Tehran?

I've been to India, Iraq, Malaysia, Singapore, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. My experience of travelling in Iraq was very nice. People would often be camera shy. I always felt like only the Iranians took hospitality seriously other than in India, where they treat guests like god. But I have experienced the same in all of South Asia.

This is my first visit to Pakistan and I have a lot of things in mind right now. I am so excited. I have been to Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Chakwal, Hassanabdal and Taxila and I look forward to visiting other places. I do have some Pakistani stories but I want to visit again to collect more stories which is why I am thinking about taking Urdu classes in Tehran.

Language is a big barrier, especially when you are trying to explain the purpose of your photography to someone who does not speak the same language. But the people in Pakistan are not shy and they nod happily even before I have asked permission to photograph them.

What do you think of Pakistan-Iran relations?

It is sad that we Iranians fly over Pakistan while travelling to India or southeast Asian countries and Pakistanis fly over Iran while travelling to Turkey and other western countries but the citizens of both do not visit the other country. We do not know each other. The visits are limited to religious tourism. I think Pakistanis and Iranians should visit each other’s countries and experience shared culture.


Originally published in Dawn, April 13th, 2017

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Comments (18) Closed



r sultan Apr 13, 2017 12:00pm

We don't really like people saying they like India. It has been covertly taught to us before we become conscious of self by oblique references and then overtly through references and statements in the media and interactions in society after we gain consciousness. Even less if foreigners they say they like India more. Still, we should be hospitable to our guests from abroad.

RiazUllah Baig Apr 13, 2017 12:12pm

Wandering soul!

Muslim Apr 13, 2017 12:22pm

Pakistan and Iran are estranged brothers. Lack of warmth on both sides on government level. I wish there is a lot of people to people interaction.

riz Apr 13, 2017 12:48pm

well he forget to mention thousands of Pakistanis making religious tours to Iran every year,, a very Iranian come to Pakistan actually,

hAider isfahani Apr 13, 2017 01:51pm

Most of Pakistani families having historical back ground from Iran. My grand fathers were migrated from Isfahan to Gilgit...

syedchaudhrygangadinkhan Apr 13, 2017 03:20pm

What history do Iranians and Pakistanis share?

SYED H Apr 13, 2017 03:25pm

Regarding the author’s point of a language barrier between Iranians and Pakistanis, this would not have happened for most of the last thousand years, as Farsi (Persian)was the language of educated Muslims in what is now Pakistan, inextricably linked with our cultural identity, from the Ghaznavids (Masud Sa'd Salman, a Lahori, wrote heartbreakingly painful poetry in Farsi in the 11th century),to the Mughals till the 19th century.

In 1843 the British moved to change this.One reason was to make the newly conquered Punjab look less to its west, and more to its east so that it could be better integrated with British territory in the rest of India. After the 1857 Mutiny, Farsi was removed by the British everywhere to expunge the influence of Muslim power. Urdu in the 20th century has sadly continued our cultural alignment with the Gangetic plain, while breaking the cultural continuity of a millennia with the Iranian plateau. Given our history, Farsi should have been our national language.

Atif Apr 13, 2017 03:39pm

@syedchaudhrygangadinkhan check the atlas

Kamran Apr 13, 2017 03:47pm

I agree, Iran and Pakistan are neighbours. We share a border. There should be much more travelling between the two countries for business and tourism.

Rumi Apr 13, 2017 03:53pm

Hello my dear companions...

rambhushan Apr 13, 2017 05:41pm

@Muslim : WHY?

Anwar Mahmood Apr 13, 2017 11:05pm

Let us not forget that the first country to recognize Pakistan in 1947 was Iran. Afghanistan was the only country in the world that voted against Pakistan entry in the UN.

Bupi Apr 14, 2017 12:47am

@hAider isfahani
And he is Gilgiti. I being Hindu my mother took birth in Gilgit & I to Carry respect for both Gilgit & its population. As we are genetically connected.

Bupi Apr 14, 2017 12:50am

@syedchaudhrygangadinkhan ?big quest mark Iran & India share history & only it can be said

Maria Apr 14, 2017 01:32am

We have so much in common with our neighbour Iran, historical ties, literal language, poetry, architecture, music, cousine, ethnic bondings etc etc.

khalid Apr 14, 2017 09:07am

Surprised that you have not gone to Lahore, most historical city and the cultural center of Pakistan

Zak Apr 14, 2017 12:29pm

@Muslim during Shah time, borders were near open and visits were regular.

Hassan (Karachi) Apr 14, 2017 01:21pm

Pakistanis avoid Iran, as travelling to Iran is a big no-no for people wanting to travel to US and other western countries. It greatly affects visa accepting possibility. Sad but still true.