Thursday, July 28, 2011

Golf - The Lighterside of Overpopulation

There are approximately 160 million people living in Bangledesh, which is about 1/2 the citizenry of the United States. 

To get anywhere in Bangledesh, you have to knee and elbow your way along, with an occasional bow. It's not like the militaristic discipline and aristocratic order of precedence we see in areas of the world where personal liberties, democratic privileges, and "personal space" are considered the norm. 

The Bangledeshian solution to the energy crisis is the rickshaw. A number of rickshaws are beautifully decorated with canvas side curtains and paintings of wild animals, with rides generally costing about three taka (twenty if you're caught in a rickshaw jam). There are no sidewalks and the streets are filled with beggars, merchants, and what one can only believe is a non-existent sewer pit. Needless to say, it's no easy task getting through the streets of Dhaka on foot, which is pretty much considered a lowborn sort of thing to do anyway.

Tourists typically travel in taxi's, as they can afford the gasoline (about 75 cents a gallon), which is the equivalent cost of consuming 31,250 calories of food per day (imagine anyone, much less a Bangledeshian, consuming a box of sugar doughnuts, a half-dozen twelve-ounce steaks, three six-packs of beer, a pizza, an apple pie, a twenty-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, one hundred chocolate chip cookies, a birthday cake, a quart of bourbon, and a Big Mac and fries. 

If you can manage to wiggle your way out of traffic, squeeze between pedals, spokes, and bodies, you can admire the architecture, which is cement in solid pastels, with narrow streets so confusing that you're not sure if you're indoors or out. If you make it to the Bund, the warf road along the Burhi Ganga, one of Bangladesh's waterways and part of the great Brahmaputra river system, you'll spot a few pinpricks of beauty amid the filthy riverbank. A Hindu bride, maybe thirteen, ascends from a water taxi with an entourage of in-laws. Gilt threads twinkle in the scarf draped over her head and shoulders, a few bangles flash at her wrists and a little gold stud winks out above one nostril - a display of whatever wealth her family bestowed upon her. 

"Either nations with burgeoning populations will take steps to limit their numbers, or Malthusian misery - starvation and epidemic will accomplish the same goal," Newsweek. 

Such talk isn't new. In Ancient China, in the days before they counted women, philosopher Han Fei-tzu said that "people are more and wealth is less."  And Plato, in his Laws, stated that the idea number of households in a city state was 5,040, and thought this number could be maintained as long as fathers married off their daughters to people out of town, picked up one son as an heir, and gave up any extras to adoption. 

Still, the population of the world didn't seem to concern us too much until the 1798 publication of An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Robert Malthus. Mathus used the mathematical buzzwords of the Enlightenment, "Population, when unchecked...increases in a geometrical ratio." 

170 years later, Paul R. Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, which announced on its cover: WHILE YOU ARE READING THESE WORDS FOUR PEOPLE WILL HAVE DIED FROM STARVATION. MOST OF THEM CHILDREN. Assuming population growth has remained steady since this 1968 publication, 750 people have died from starvation since you started reading this blog entry. 

It's difficult to see the lighter-side of dwindling resources and starvation. While Bangladesh's minister of health and family welfare purports that the situation isn't as bad as it is projected outside the country, he's probably thinking of his quiet, clean, comfortable garden home where he can enjoy the afternoon shade and sip pink gins away from the filthy bustling city streets, which are essentially empty after dark. 

The only lighter-side I can think of in this whole discussion is that people in Bangladesh sure do love their children, and if you enjoy golf, there's no shortage of caddies, assistant caddies, and assistants to the assistants to hold umbrellas and go get drinks. 

If you're staying at Dhaka's Five star Radisson hotel - which offers guests use of the nearby deluxe army golf course - you probably won't be bothered by the wretched effects of overpopulation, and can instead focus on the beauty of this ardent fertile land with its rivers and streams that carry more water through this tiny nation than flow in all of Europe. Bangladesh is a land of beauty where nature and people have come together to weave a remarkable tapestry of life. From the fragrance of the mango-groves, to the full-blossomed paddy fields, this country's joy and sadness equally stir the mind.

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