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.
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