By the time Abdur Rahman and his family reached Sadarghat launch terminal it was almost 4pm. Though they have to board a launch to Barishal in the evening, the family of four decided to get there early.
They knew how erratic and chaotic the situation may become at Dhaka’s maritime gateway, as thousands of people are leaving the city to spend Eid with their loved ones back home.
The terminal is quite a sight with passengers -- exhausted, excited and worried -- trying to get onto vessels to secure seats, and boats of different shapes and sizes arriving from southern districts, ready to depart again with homegoers.
Amid the constant pushing and shoving, complaints of being charged extra for tickets and delay in service, Rahman, a hawker by profession, somehow managed to secure seats for his family. They sat on the deck of “MV Achal-6” and waited patiently for the journey home to start.
It was 6pm already.
“How are we going to break our fast?” his wife asked.
Rahman decided to get some iftar for the family from shops beside the terminal but quickly discarded that line of thought as he knew he will not be able to get back in time due to the crowd.
But he need not worry.
Vendors carrying iftar items (chhola, piyaju, beguni, muri, alur chop, dates, fruits etc.) walk around the launch decks and sell those. Upon request, they serve a concoction of iftar items in a small plastic bag to passengers. There are also vendors who sell bottled water, a must-have.
Like Rahman, hundreds of people have iftar at the terminal or inside the vessels.
Breaking one’s fast while travelling is a common phenomenon in the country, and the rush increases during the last two weeks of Ramadan. Not just Sadarghat, the same situation prevails at Kamalapur Railway Station and Sayedabad, Gabtoli bus terminals as well.
Meanwhile back in Sadarghat, madrasa teachers Abdul Mannan and Abul Kalam Azad were waiting on a pontoon. “We came to Gazipur from Jhalakathi for training. We are heading home today. We started around noon, but reached here around 6:30pm,” said Mannan. “You know, we didn’t need to buy iftar, many shared theirs with us.”
Despite the frenzy, launches -- filled to the brim with homegoers -- remain docked during iftar with their hulls jutting out over the platform, create a rhythmic pattern. There is a sense of solidarity too. Passengers not only share food, but also make room for others to sit down -- an otherwise rare sight.
Asked, Hamzalal Sheikh, joint convener of Dhaka River Port Vessel Management Committee, said, “We have around 43 river routes, where 70-80 launches ply regularly. The number increases to 120 during Eid.”
About iftar, he said, “We let the hawkers do business here as it also helps passengers.”
“Usually we do not delay for iftar, but depending on passengers’ request, we take decisions. Besides, most launches start journey in the evening,” he added.
Meanwhile, vendors are doing brisk business too.
Many also come in small boats to sell iftar items to passengers in launches, docked a little bit further in the Buriganga.
One of them is Al Amin, 19, who sells sliced cucumbers. “I earn around Tk 600 and make a profit of around Tk 250 per day during the month [of Ramadan]. The good thing is that it doesn’t take a long time to make the money.”
Suddenly, it was time to break the fast and the usual cacophony got replaced by silence. Everyone, including passengers, vendors, workers, took a sip of water and broke their fast. This correspondent also sat with a group and shared food.
Soon afterwards, the commotion that is Sadarghat sprang back to life again.