<i>New breed of street vendors</i>
A knock on the car window wakes up the drowsy commuter.
“Sir, would you take some popcorn?” offers the source of the knock, merely four feet tall, standing beside the car with a sack full of his merchandise.
In a few minutes a startling thump. “Lemon sir? It's only 10 taka,” insists an older face.
Not even a minute's pause -- another knock follows. Someone else offers towel, hand fan or a bunch of roses and this goes on as long as the red signal lingers.
Street vending has gone through many transformations over the years. New breed of floating vendors have taken over the streets of Dhaka with innovative marketing strategies. They come in every size and age group with an array of products.
“This is a popular business among the poor because it does not require a huge investment. We cannot afford a permanent shed so we have become mobile,” said a towel vendor at Farmgate.
There was a time when newspapers, peanuts and herbal medicine were the products sold by the floating vendors. Some vendors preferred pedestrians while some hopped on public buses and lectured commuters about their product.
Things have taken a new turn in last few years. Today street vendors sell almost everything they could carry, starting from candies, popcorn, towel, lemon, hand fan, cooled bottled water, seasonal flowers, stuffed toys, candy floss, cigarettes, toothbrush, pen, children's book, even pirated copies of latest popular books, and many more.
Busy traffic intersections are the places where they usually operate.
Some of the most popular places for them are the traffic signals near Shahbagh, Hotel Sheraton, Saarc fountain, Bijoy Sarani, Zia Udyan, Manik Mia Avenue, Dhanmondi road no 27 and Moghbazar intersection.
Morsheda, a young woman, travels every day from Begunbari slum to Karwan Bazar intersection with her entire family at the crack of dawn. “My first task is to buy lemon from Karwan Bazar wholesale market while my father goes to Shahbagh to buy flowers and my husband gets towels from Gulistan.”
Morsheda's mother looks after her baby and the goods while they persuade customers.
Morsheda explained every vendor has a particular traffic signal to operate his or her trade. They remain stationed at the pavement nearby.
Usually unknown faces are not allowed unless they are relatives or friends to the existing vendors. However, this rule is being broken every day as thousands of destitute people are rushing towards Dhaka seeking job.
Sometimes the police drive them away but they return after a while.
The vendors change their products with changes in season. Traditional hand fans made of palm leaf and cooled bottled water is the most prominent item in summer.
Lemon and popcorn are also the two biggest hits of recent times. Vendors attribute the surge to a bumper production of lemon in Sylhet and corn production in North Bengal.
“In early summer I start with water melon slices. Then I switch to cucumber and mango chutney. In winter I sell carrot slices,” said Abdul Hamid, a vendor selling sliced cucumber near Farmgate.
Another vendor said, “I sell small hand towels in summer while in winter I switch to light woollen sweaters.”
For them, a little traffic jam is always good for business. Income depends on traffic condition, weather and experience of the hawker.
Average income of a vendor is Tk 150 to Tk 200 a day.
Borhan Ali, a 9-year-old expert popcorn seller stationed near Bashundhara City, gives his insight. “It depends on attitude. I keep on nagging unless they buy something. I prefer women who seem more compassionate,” he said.
Some older vendors who cannot move fast pretend to be ill to sell their products.
Borhan starts his business at around 5:00pm after finishing school hours. He sells around 20 packets of popcorn till 10:00pm. Borhan mentioned that sales go up during weekends and festivals like Pahela Baishakh or Victory Day.
The business that apparently seems safe has risk factors too, the vendors said.
“Sometimes we cannot return to the sidewalk when the green signal is on. Minor accidents are a regular feature,” said Harun, a candyfloss seller at Bijoy Sarani.
“Often the commuters leave without paying us. It is not always their fault as the vehicles start to speed up as soon as the green signal is on. There is nothing we can do about it.”
“There were many occasions when I had to run with speeding cars to get my money. Sometimes people throw the money on the street making it risky for us to collect. Sometimes our products get under the wheels of vehicles,” he said.