I Am Agha
Profile of a Street Boy in Pakistan
From the RSA *
"This film tells the story of a street child (Agha Khan) who collects garbage and works hard to survive. Life goes on, no matter what happens around him. While Agha’s most pressing concern is survival, he also wishes, like every child, to play, to go to school and have an education. Filmed in Lahore’s Ferozpor Road in 2010 by Atif Ahmad Qureshi, it is not known what has become of Agha Khan today.
"Pakistan has one of the world’s largest populations of street children, estimated by the United Nations in a 2005 survey to be between 1.2 million and 1.5 million, with an average age of 9. Most will die before their 18th birthday. For more information regarding the plight of Pakistan’s street children please visit Azad Foundation, an organisation that provides food, shelter, health care, education and counselling to Pakistani street children. Film courtesy of London International Documentary Festival (LIDF). Devised and Lead by LIDF as part of their Filmmaking for social change programme.
Producer: Atif Ahmad Qureshi, M. Umar Saeed and Kiran Mushtaq
Location: Ferozpor Road, Lahore
Interviewee: Agha Khan
The RSA is an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. Through its ideas, research and 27,000-strong Fellowship it seeks to understand and enhance human capability so we can close the gap between today’s reality and people’s hopes for a better world."
Some Couches are Way Too Soft
Here is a funny thing. I write this from a comfortable lobby in a Hilton Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, USA. That's it on the left.
It is early in the morning and my wife, Kathy, is still in bed in a room on the fifth floor. We slept very well on clean sheets in room 506; and I had a good shower before coming down. Before too long, Kathy will be up, and we will have breakfast in the nearby restaurant. I hope to have two poached eggs on an English muffin with some strong coffee. Here I am, feeling clean and safe and hungry.
And flabby. Agha Khan is now part of my here. I met him in the video above. He lives on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan, picking up garbage. I know that there are Agha's in San Antonio, too. Children who sleep on the streets are everywhere.
In any case, Agha is in Pakistan, and his life is as valuable as any other life, mine included. He is probably around nine years old and among those on the streets of Pakistan who, on the average, will die before their eighteenth birthday.
When I really think about Agha and all the other children on the streets, I feel kind of nauseated. There's something a little sickening about a lobby like this. It's not that I wish he could be in the lobby with me; it's that I wish I weren't in the lobby. I wish we were all in a little hostel, with clean sheets and a simple breakfast available to all. The lobby is too comfortable.
Really now, what would be so wrong with us all staying in a hostel? What has happened to us human beings? Where did we go wrong? Where did we get the idea that it is alright for some to have so much when others have so little?
There is Here
I am reminded of Whitehead's idea that no entity in the universe is simply here, where it is. It is also there, where all the other things are, because they are part of it's here. No here is an island.
Whitehead thinks this is true even apart from radio, television, and movies. He thinks that Agha Khan was part of my here even before I watched the video. He says that everything is already connected, thus implying that we become wise when we understand these connections in our minds and our hearts, and then follow up on our wisdom with action aimed for the well-being of all. He calls it world loyalty.
I guess I knew about world loyalty even before reading Whitehead. I grew up going to church and being taught that, from God's perspective, we are all brothers and sisters. Still today I want to walk in the footsteps of a young Jewish man who felt this way and invited others to follow him in the way of simplicity. I am told he died on a cross, having been killed by Roman soldiers. He was a socialist, too.
Deep down I think we are all socialists. We may or may not believe in God, but we know that when other people suffer in any way it hurts them. Our destinies are bound together by suffering even if our hearts are torn asunder by greed, hatred, and religion. We are responsible for one another as members of a single family. The libertarians have it wrong. We do belong to each other. When we forget this, we fall into thinking that our comforts here can be isolated from the discomforts of others there. Whitehead calls this the fallacy of simple location.
Perhaps justice begins when we break out of this fallacy. Perhaps it begins by knowing that there is here and that we are family. I think the prophets of old sensed this: Abraham, Isaiah, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad. They were not perfect people; they did not get everything right. Sometimes they were too clannish. But they were good gardeners, planting seeds of justice in our hearts.
Their traditions -- the prophetic traditions -- tell us that those of us who are privileged need to get off our soft couches and get to work helping others. Sometimes we can be smothered in comforts. We sink down too far into luxury and call it the good life. We die of loneliness and privilege.
Is Agha still alive? They never found him after they did the documentary. But thanks to the director, he found me. Some couches are just way too soft. I know that if I leave this couch, I'll find Agha just around the corner. He is waiting for me, and so is his sister.