In April, Anas Saleem, a Lahore-based freelance writer, posted an image on Instagram of the Katas Raj temples, the ancient Hindu site in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Soon after, the 21-year-old received a message from a follower in India, saying she had shown the photo to her 85-year-old grandfather who wanted to speak to him over the phone.
Saleem called up the elderly Indian, and their conversation quickly moved from English to Urdu and Punjabi. It turned out that before Partition carved India and Pakistan into two separate countries, the man had grown up on the other side, making several trips to the sacred site.
“He shared with me stories from before 1946 when, as a youngster, he used to visit the Katas Raj Temple” Saleem explained. “He expressed a desire to visit his hometown in Pakistan, but due to the political situation, it was difficult.”
For Saleem, the phone call was a surprising sign of the influence of a documentary photography project he had started on a whim.
Inspired by Everyday Mumbai, an Instagram project that curates images of life in India’s financial capital, Saleem realised there was no similar account for the cities of Pakistan. So he created one on his own, launching Everyday Pakistan this February.
“My primary objective is to document daily life in Pakistan, and show the world that Pakistan is not what they see in mainstream media,” he told Quartz in an email.
Besides Saleem’s own photos, the project features the works of local photographers who use the #everydayPakistan hashtag. The collection shows urban and rural scenes that capture the country’s unique architecture and culture, rarely captured by the mainstream media which is focused more on sports or conflict. Followers of Everyday Pakistan get a chance to see everything from an old sign of Teejays, the country’s first fashion brand to a traditional wrestling match. Young skullcapped boys joyfully celebrate Eid outside a mosque while women in red t-shirts and black shorts pose before a logo of Karachi United, a local football club.
In short, it is a slice of real, diverse life from a country that political tensions have prevented most Indians from seeing – and understanding. Saleem says he has been overwhelmed by the positive response from Indians, who make up some 23% of the project’s count of nearly 56,000 followers. He has received messages from people across the border praising what they described as honest and refreshing images that break the stereotypes associated with Pakistan. Some of the followers are also descendants of those who, like the 85-year-old Indian Saleem spoke to, migrated during Partition from the region that became Pakistan.
“I never thought or imagined it will become this popular in India,” Saleem said. “I was surprised they are very much curious to see everyday life in Pakistan where their ancestors spent [their] childhoods.”
After all, any mention of the neighbouring nation in India draws impassioned responses, mostly in the extremes. In India, Pakistan is usually associated with the conflict in Kashmir, successive border scuffles and wars, or strife borne of religious identities. In the political rhetoric that has kept alive the rivalry between the two countries for decades, the humanity of people is routinely forgotten.
But Saleem is on a mission to change perspectives, revealing the corners of Pakistan that Indians and other foreigners have never seen before, besides promoting the work of young photographers.
This article first appeared on Quartz.