“All human beings are hard-wired to look for paradise.”
I couldn’t quite recall the full details of what I had shared during the 2.5 hour Skype interview with The New York Times writer Andrew Boryga, but in all certainty, this statement came out from my mouth in the midst of a very interesting conversation.
With the same journalistic rigour that has made newspapers like “NYT” international household names, Andrew had succeeded in capturing, with very few words, the thought and work process behind the book Paradise. At 7:30am on a Thursday morning, we chatted about photography, paradise and Pakistan. By looking at the photographs and recalling my journey, I was transported back in time and space. I began to smell the chyai, see the mountains, hear the rivers of Swat once again. I felt, once again, that desire for paradise that had driven me to pursue the theme for five years.
In the same interview, I had went on to say: “For the Swatis, maybe their paradise is mountains, rivers, fruit, family and familiarity.” As I had told Andrew, everyone has their own idea of paradise. For some people, it may be a palace amidst billowing white clouds where souls go to in afterlife. For others, it may be the hidden pristine beaches like those of the the once-secret Phi Phi island in Thailand. And for some, paradise may be more experiential than spatial – sharing a piping hot apple pie at a fireplace with one’s family on a wintry night.
Everyone has their own idea of paradise, and I believe human beings are all hard-wired to look for it. We would search endlessly for it, and in our lifetime, our definition of paradise would shift and morph many times over.
So although Paradise is a book based on the true events that unfolded in a physical paradise called Swat Valley, the book is not simply about a place. It is an attempt to use a documentary narrative of our times to engage its readers about the universal theme of “paradise”. In modern times, our busy lives are crowded with so much “noise” that there is nary a quiet moment to pause think about paradise, much less to find it.
Therefore, it is my hope that when someone picks up a copy of Paradise at a bookstore or at a library, the imagery will inspire the reader to look for that paradise again.
For the full interview, please visit the Lens Blog: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/31/paradise-in-a-pakistani-valley/?smid=pl-share
Download the free Paradise: Contact Sheets app for iOS at: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/contact-sheets/id804415283?mt=8
Get a copy of Paradise at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Paradise-English-French-Edition-Edwin/dp/9710579231
Get a copy of Paradise at Kinokuniya: http://www.kinokuniya.com/sg/index.php/fbs003?common_param=9789710579235
Sher Zaman, 50, squeezed 10 people into his LPG-powered auto-rickshaw, built to carry 3 passengers, to escape the conflict in Swat valley. More than two million people fled in tractors, cattle trucks, auto-rickshaws, and whatever transport means they could find, as mortar shells pummeled their paradise. 2009/05/20
Refugees returning to Kalam in Swat Valley many months after fleeing their homeland for the second time. Swat Valley was hit by Pakistan’s worst flood in history, a year after the conflict ended. 2011/05/24.
Displaced Muslims from Swat Valley pray in a makeshift prayer hall in the slum village of Mirabadi, 20 km from the heart of the capital Islamabad.
Young refugees wait for tea to be served at Sheik Yasin camp in the sweltering plains of Mardan. Displaced from their paradise, the refugees take comfort in what little normalcy they can find in exile, including drinking chyai, a form of sweetened milk tea, which has become a daily ritual in most of Pakistan. 2009/05/24.
Onlookers gathered to inspect the remnants of vehicular bombings in the busy Qissa Khwani bazaar in Peshawar, which killed at least 12 people and injured more than 100. As the Pakistani military intensified its offensive against Taliban militants in Swat Valley, a string of bombings and suicide attacks have hit cities throughout Pakistan. 2009/05/29.
Fauziah Aminullah, 35, a Muslim from Shaidul Sharif, Swat, coos her baby to sleep, in a church in Mardan. 2009/05/24
A Muslim man prostrates at the ruins of Bilal Masjid, popularly known as the “Rock Mosque”, during evening prayer time. The 2010 flood washed away everything except for its foundation. Even though the building was destroyed, faithfuls continue to return to the same place to worship everyday. Behrain, Swat. 2010/09/24.
Boys pretending to be soldiers and Taliban militants pose for a photo with their toy guns in the town of Utror, Upper Swat. Even in the most remote reaches of Swat, “Army versus Taliban” has become a favourite game among the young and the restless. 2013/08/10.
A sentry post keeps watch over a key junction between Mingora and its twin city of Saidu Sharif in Swat. Even though the army has declared Swat Valley a Taliban-free zone after the successful military operation in 2009, sentries and road blocks have become part of the new landscape in Swat. 2010/09/21.
Weeks after the terrible flood, volunteers from all walks of society came forward to rebuild bridges across Swat. The workers take no wages in this practice of “ashar” or “work for the common good” – an agrarian concept commonly found in Swat – in which farmers come together to cultivate each other’s lands. 2010/09/25.
Social activist Zubair Torwali and his son Riman Ahmad Torwali, 5, share a private moment in his house in Behrain. 2011/05/22.
Young shepherds return to a familiar pasture at the Buddhist ruins of Gira Fort, Odigram. During the military operations against the Taliban in 2008 and 2009, curfews were common and shepherds were not allowed to roam freely with their cattle in Swat’s summer pastures. 2010/09/21.
Gul Sharif, a servant in Hotel Noor Palace in Kalam, sits idle on a swing chair, recalling better days before the conflict and flood. As the tourist hub of Upper Swat, Kalam’s 200-plus hotels would be packed with both international tourists and local visitors seeking out the “Switzerland of the East”. 2011/05/24.
Noman, 11, prepares chyai for family guests, while Zubair Torwali, a family friend, lends a helping hand. Chyai, or sweetened milk tea, is an integral part of the Swati culture, and is always served to guests as a mark of hospitality. 2010/09/25.
Men dance to the beat of traditional folk songs at a private family party in Swat. When the Taliban took control of the valley in 2009, they enforced their own version of the Sharia law and banned music, dance and all forms of merry-making. 2011/06/03.
Children sit in a truck full of turnips during harvest time in Utror, Upper Swat. Enriched by the glacier-fed Suvastu river, the entire Swat Valley is known to produce bountiful harvests of crops and fruits throughout the year. 2013/08/03.
Tooti Gul recalls the day the Taliban blew up the face of the Jahanabad Buddha, a 6-metre tall stone carving that dates back to the 6th century. “At about 3am, the militants came to our house and snatched our mobiles from us and warned us not to climb up there. I asked them ‘Why are you doing this? The Buddha statue is stuck to the wall and won’t harm you’ and they replied ‘It’s none of your business.'” Then we heard the sound of drilling and then an explosion. By the time we had the Fajar prayer, they were finished.”
Children play in a stream in Boyoun village, perched more than a thousand feet above the tourist hub of Kalam town. Away from the main thoroughfare, Boyoun is one of the last vestiges of Swat untouched by conflict and modernity, where children still play traditional games like “gulidanda” instead of “Army versus Taliban”. 2013/08/11.
Children from a flood-displaced family take care of their newborn sibling in a makeshift shelter near the town of Utror in Upper Swat. The flood in 2010 swept away entire villages, and those too poor to rebuild continue to languish in temporary settlements without access to nearby schools and markets. 2013/08/10.
Lake Mahodand, or Fish Lake, which once lay in the secret embrace of the upper valleys, has always been known to the Swatis as a place of breathtaking natural beauty and an abundance of fish. But with the opening of the vehicular road in 2000, the lake has been reduced a natural theme park for pleasure-seeking tourists, looking for a piece of paradise in Swat. 2013/08/01.