Agostino Gaetano Bono may just be another diplomat from the Italian embassy, who is returning home after serving four years in what is fast becoming the most difficult capital to work in.
But then ‘ordinary’ he is not. He has accomplished in four years that should take a lifetime to achieve. He has spent all his earning on setting up a charity hospital in a remote village called Khushpur near Faisalabad. The story of this hospital seems like a script from Hollywood: Bono met a resident of Khushpur in Islamabad, who invited him to see what the real Pakistan stands for. He accepted the invitation and despite security concerns visited this God forsaken village. Khushpur was anything but Khushpur, which means ‘the abode of happiness.’ So touched was he by the misery he saw in Khushpur that he almost cried. Poverty, hunger and sickness stared him in its most ugly form. He noticed that the village had more sick and handicapped people than normal. He was told that the locals could not afford medication if at all they make it to the nearest hospital that was miles away. Then something dramatic happened. An old villager approached Bono, saying that he had dreamt about a person, who would come one day and open a hospital in the village. “That person was you, ‘Sahb’,” he told Bono.
This changed Bono’s life and he made sure that the old man’s dream was materialised. He sent food for the villagers, wheelchairs for the handicapped and laid down the foundation stone for the hospital. He gathered a group of friends and colleagues, which arranged fundraisers for Khushpur. A ‘Pizza and Lasagne Day’ was arranged where families of his colleagues cooked for the guests. The Italian embassy chipped in by helping top opera singers invited for another fundraising musical evening. Agostiona Bono Foundation now boasts a functional hospital in Khushpur, which has treated around 2,500 patients by now. Two doctors and two nurses work seven day a week to help the locals. Bono plans to keep in touch and bring Italian doctors for the hospital. All this has earned him the title of ‘Bono the saint.’ But this just may be one of the many identities he has accomplished in Pakistan.
In another circle, he is known as ‘Bono the scholar.’ He utilised his time in Pakistan by learning Urdu. The upshot of the experience is a book he has compiled on Urdu-Italian proverbs and idioms. The book is a fascinating contribution to both languages and will be launched today. Again, the earnings from the book will go to the hospital.
Another title that has been thrust upon him is ‘Bono the Sicilian.’ This has less to do with his Mafioso looks and more with the fact that he happens to be from the Italian island of Sicily. It has always given him pains that he is no ‘Godfather.’ Sicily may still have some tradition of the mafia but the Mario Puzo version was more fiction than fact. But this has not deterred his friends from weaving an aura of ‘godfather’ around him. After all, he is ‘godfather’ to thousands of them in Khushpur. However, he is widely known as Bono Butt among his Pakistani admirers. The background to this title is his zest for Kashmiri foods and his open (‘khulli-dulli’) spirit. This has also led to this theory among his fans that perhaps the Italians are the Kashmiris of Europe. They have a lot in common in complexion, the taste for dressing up and the lively approach towards life. Bono has never objected to this as long it was not associated it with any racial prejudices.
Whether he is the saint, the scholar or the ‘godfather,’ Bono has put many of us to shame. He has proved that one person can open whole vistas of benevolence, if he or she is devoted to do that. He has plans to carry on with his mission and create many more Khushpurs even after he has left Pakistan. For those who want to join hands with him are welcome to do that through his web site http://www.agostinobono.com.
November 6, 2010