Kayhan International (Iran)

August 02 1971

The looming shadow of a hungry giant

By Amir Taheri

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Noontime is kebab-time in Dacca’s riverside district. There are about 20 kiosks made of tin and tree-trunks which specialise in making a mixture of flour and minced intestines of sheep that passes for “kebab”. To the teeming crowds of the district this curious mixture represents a wholesome meal. There are thousands of fishermen, vendors, fortune-tellers, crap-shooters, lay-abouts, boatmen, beggars, ruined peasants wandering in the town and sundry other semi-naked walking skeletons who mob the “kebab-shops” at lunch-time.

The whole meal costs one-quarter of a rupee (about 2.5 rials) and yet most of the crowd who gather to watch the grilling of the coveted meal cannot afford the treat. Out of every 10 by-standers at the kebab-shops only one or two can afford the meal. They eat with pleasure and look as if they have just secured a chunk of paradise. The rest of the crowd look on in envy mixed with wonder.

“Too poor to be true”, the head of the East Pakistani water and power board—a charming Bengali—described his land when briefing us on the region’s problems. “We have the highest population density in the world and the lowest per capita income”, he said with a hurt smile. There are some 75 million people occupying an area of 55,000 square miles. The population of the region will be over 100 million before the current decade is over.

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