This is pretty much what Shahin Alam heard, when he arrived at Karwan Bazar in search of work.
The 30-year-old Sirajganj native had lost everything to river erosion and in desperation, came to the capital recently.
But things were not easy. He tried his luck in construction, transport and garment sectors, but to no avail.
“All I had left was Tk 100. I came to Karwan Bazar, not knowing what to do. It was late at night but the area was abuzz with activity. I saw workers unloading goods from trucks and delivering those to merchants,” Shahin said.
So he started asking around. “They told me I can get work here but I have to rent a tukri [wicker basket] first.”
One of the workers turned out to be from his village. “He took me to the ‘Arot Bhaban’ [dry goods depot] and introduced me to a person there. He wrote down my name and took Tk 20 from me and handed me a basket. He said after I was done, I have to return it to him.”
“That’s how I started working as a porter at this market,” a busy Shahin told these correspondents recently, in between delivering goods. “I remember, I made Tk 300 that night.”
Shahin said he works from midnight to 8am -- unloading and delivering goods --and for each trip, depending on distance and weight, he makes around Tk 40.
“Even though the job is arduous, it’s not complicated nor do I have to face any hassle,” he added. “I can support my family with the money I make,” said Shahin.
This newspaper visited the market multiple times over the week. The visits were made after midnight and each time, the largest kitchen and wholesale market in the city was gearing up to pull an all-nighter.
With trucks unloading goods, vendors busy arranging commodities and buyers haggling in the dank alleys, the market is quite a sight.
Meanwhile, amid the constant shouting of merchants,workers pushing and shoving anything and everything on their way and buyers complaining of being charged extra or not getting a better deal, Sumon Hawladar -- with a basket filled with coriander leaves loaded on his head -- was seen completing a delivery.
The 35-year-old was a busy man to talk to. He had to take the produce to a nearby shop,unload the herb and then come back for another round.
For Sumon, this will continue till dawn. He has been working as a porter for over nine years.
He said he used to be a caretaker at a building in Dhanmondi back in 2010. He left the job after an argument with one of the owners.
“I searched for work in Dhaka and Gazipur but could not find any. One of my acquaintances brought me here and told me to go to the depot and rent a basket. I rented one for Tk 10, stood beside a road for trucks to arrive and started unloading and delivering vegetables.”
Like Shahin and Sumon, over 2,000 porters with empty baskets roam around the market to unload goods from trucks after they arrive at Karwan Bazar from across the country.
And they all have to rent those for Tk 20 apiece.
Sumon said they carry around 10-50kg of goods in their baskets. “Many come to shop here at night. We carry the produce for them and deliver those to vehicles. For each trip I make around Tk 40-50.”
Meanwhile, Rabiul Islam just came back from a delivery. He said he had to cross Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue to deliver cauliflowers. “It was not easy, especially with the weight. But the buyer paid me extra,” said the 40-year-old native of Jamalpur.
He said he starts working from 10pm and continues till 8am. “I have tried everything, from being a day labourer to rickshaw-puller, but working as a porter helped me take care of my family. I can make around Tk 1,000 on a good night.”
While talking to porters, they said many work during the day. But there’s more work at night with trucks being able to enter the city unrestricted and vendors getting ready to sell produce in the morning, they added.
The two-storey “Kachamal Arot Bhaban” (dry-goods depot)-- from where they rent tukris -- is situated deep inside the bazaar. After making quite a few bends and turns through damp and labyrinthine alleys and climbing a few flights of stairs without proper wall support, these correspondents finally reached this basket rental place.
The entire floor is filled with stacks of empty tukris. There are also rolled up plastic sheets and sacks. In various corners of the spacious floor, many workers were either sleeping or chatting. They said they can sleep here by paying Tk 20 as well.
These correspondents met a busy Riaj Hossain there, who was jotting down porters’ names, phone numbers or addresses in his notebook before handing them baskets.
Riaj has been engaged in this line of work for over 15 years. “People from all over the country come to the capital with a hope to earn some money and support their families back home. But it’s not that simple to get a job that will help them sustain,” he said, sitting on a chair in front of a row of baskets.
In between conversation, a worker came up to him to rent a tukri. Riaj pulled out his notebook, wrote down his name and asked him questions like where he was from and who referred him.
“People mostly in need come here and we try to help them out. But we’re also running a business here. That’s why we make sure the baskets or the goods in it do not get lost or stolen,” he mentioned.
He said if an unknown person wants to rent a basket then they ask for a deposit of Tk 200 and return the money once they get it back. “But in most cases, they come with references and we write down their names and give it to them for Tk 20,” he added.
Riaj said around 13-15 people are involved in this (basket)business at Karwan Bazar. Altogether they have around four to five thousand baskets.
He said by renting out baskets, they make around Tk 40,000 per month. They also have workers who fix the damaged baskets or gather the empty ones.
When asked whether they are in a way forcing workers to rent those from them, Riaj said, “If a porter buys his own tukri, he will have to spend around Tk 300 for one. It may get damaged and would take another Tk 200 to fix that. Also, there’s an issue of carrying those with them all the time. They may end up losing those.”
“We offer them a better solution, which is hassle-free,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for years, hence when someone new comes here he gets the impression that he has no other option but to rent one from us.”
Meanwhile in another building inside the market, Matiur Rahman Mati was busy instructing workers to fix his damaged tukris.
“We mark and number our tukris so that we can collect them easily as many a times workers leave them here and there,” he said. “Once in a while, some also get damaged or stolen.”
“If a customer complains that his goods were stolen, we sit down with him and try to come up with a solution. Once, we had to pay off a person as his goods got stolen during delivery -- but that was a rare case,” Mati added.
“It works out for all of us -- rentors and rentees. We also offer porters a place to sleep [for Tk 20]. After working in this line for so many years, we can tell who wants to rent out a basket for what purpose. Most porters have been with us for a long time. They eventually inform their villagers or family members about the work and vouch for them.”
Mati said the rush for renting baskets starts at 8pm and continues till midnight while workers return those between 7am and 10am.
By the time the conversation ended, it was well past 3am. But the night seemed still young at this ever-bustling place with trucks arriving and porters’ busy unloading and delivering goods.