Good old Dhaka is the bustling metropolis where people from all over Bangladesh come to better their living standard and sometimes merely to survive. They come and settle in Dhaka despite the tough struggle that it offers them. In this cruel city, eking out a livelihood is tough for the commoners but somehow people here find something to earn a living. Some of their jobs are tricky; others are so pastoral that they form incongruous contrasts in this rather cosmopolitan city.
Do you want to buy taka with taka? Sounds fishy, doesn't it? But if a torn and damaged 500 TK note is passed onto you or if you want to cheer your 5-year-old daughter up with an Eid salami of new, freshly printed bank notes, what will you do? Going to the bank and standing in the long queue is one way but this is not feasible for everyone. The other way is to go to the 'money traders' in Gulistan, collect freshly printed bank notes from the central bank in exchange of damaged and mutilated bank notes. The fee is nominal, and it depends on the amount of money to be exchanged. Some of these people are also expert in detecting counterfeit bank notes and coins. If you are a numismatologist or if coin collection is your hobby, you should visit one of these roadside shops. Some of these vendors have a good collection of rare and ancient foreign and Bangladeshi currencies. Shumon, one of the vendors, says, “You see, we are out in the street, doing business, while we should be busy with our studies in college. I have searched for many jobs. Now that I have to earn a leaving trading in banknotes, I don't feel bad, but things could have been a lot better.” Shumon, a young man from Noakhali, has been in this line for last eight years. Business is usually quite dull, but presently he and other vendors are doing a brisk business thanks to the coming Eid-ul-Adha.
The Soothsayer and his Parrot
While moving around Gulistan we met this charming man with a parrot in his hand and some mysterious cards and entrails in the front. If you pay some money to this parrot tied to a cage, the wise bird will drag a card with its tough beak and throw it to you. You obviously find some assuring words written in that card. The bird is “wise” of course as it has been highly trained by the soothsayer to pick the card appropriately and throw to the client. Bishu, the soothsayer, is quite happy with his work. He says, “This is just for entertainment. I am not claiming that my parrot can tell your fortune.” Thanks to his avian employee, Bishu has quite a good lot of customers interested to know their fate. Bishu says that he and his bird have been featured in some television dramas. So if you want your luck tested by a wise parrot you can meet Bishu on the pavement near Gulistan. Animal rights activists may also want to visit him for caging some beautiful parrots in such a manner and also for running a business like this.
If you enter into the General Post Office (GPO) premises you will meet Anwar waiting with his packing instruments. GPO is the country's largest post office where hundreds of people come to send gifts and letters to their loved ones. Anwar earns his bread by packing these gifts and other such objects. We find him busy in packing a parcel with great care. After completing the task, which seemed quite laborious, he talks to us about his life and work. We ask him why he has chosen packing other's stuff as a profession. He then tells us about his previous profession which he left a few moons ago--finding no other suitable work, he at first chose letter writing as his career. He used to sit at a small table beside the GPO office to write letters on behalf of those who could not read or write. His fee was very nominal but he used to enjoy his job at that time by inscribing another person's mind in his own words. But with the advent of cell phone, he had to quit his job as there weren't enough customers. Now he packs other's gifts and presents. How is he doing? He is struggling to make ends meet as he has two school-going children. Be that as it may, the young man doesn't lose hope. With a beaming smile he says, “When I think that I am ensuring security to other's valuable property and their gifts to their dearest ones I feel happy with my work.”
The Milkman of Ramna
If you are a regular morning walker at Ramna Park you obviously have come across Ajit Ghosh offering fresh and skimmed milk. Carrying jars, he regularly comes to Ramna to nourish the health conscious people. The process of preparation of skimmed milk is as ancient as the history of Bangladesh. Shaking skimmed milk with two glasses and by adding sugar Ajit offered his preparation of skimmed milk to us. It was very soothing. While asking about his profession he said that he is a milkman by his caste. His ancestors were also milkman. He has cows in his home and he and his wife prepare this skimmed milk. Each day he sells almost 200 glasses of skimmed milk. He is quite familiar with his regular customers. He also delivers milk in many houses of his area. His customers trust him for his pure and fresh skimmed milk.
The Bakarkhani Bakers
Bakarkhani, a legendary food of old Dhaka, is quite popular among Dhaka foodies. There are a handful of bakeries in old Dhaka that only bake Bakarkhani following the age old traditional method. Bakarkhani is a special type of bread baked inside tandoor oven. To maintain the age old tradition they never bake any other food products.
Every Bakarkhani bakers knows the legend behind this delicacy. Once upon a time there was a king named Aga Bakir. He fell in love with a beautiful dancing girl called Khani. But another evil king Jainul abducted Khani. Bakir chased Jainul. Seeing no hope Janinul killed Khani. After reaching the spot Aga Bakir saw his beloved dying, seeing which he became almost insane. It was he who named a special type of bread his cook had baked, “Bakarkhani”. Respecting this immortal love story, the bakers of old Dhaka are still baking this very special type of crispy bread. Hamza the baker tells us that baking Bakarkhani what his ancestors have been doing. He is maintaining this line and hopes that this is what his children too will do in the future.
A chattering crowd mobs a cycle van. The owner of the van is Jalil, a peddler selling beautiful birds, rabbits, pet food and cages. He has a variety of pigeons, love birds, some cute rabbits and various types of pet foods. He collects them from the wholesale market in Kamrangir Char and sells it in the residential areas of Dhaka. Most of his customers are children and teenagers. He is rather busy in managing the crowds so that interested buyers can examine his animals without any hassle. He says that selling and maintaining living beings is a difficult job. He needs to feed them regularly to keep them looking good. Business remains good as Mohsin probably is the only person dealing in pets in the Islampur area.
Our Traditional Carrier
It is indeed quite long ago that horse cart of various types and carriages were the only mode of transport in Dhaka. Even 40 or even 50 years ago these carts were visible in all the main streets of Dhaka. But now these traditional horse carriages look as feeble as the horses that draw them. The route of this traditional career is now confined to Gulistan to Sadarghat. But due to its traditional flavour they are frequently used in ceremonial rallies. In Gulistan, we talk to coachman Mohsin. He has two horses named Bahadur (the Hero) and Tufan (the storm). Each carriage needs one coachman and two groomers for the two horses. Mohsin has great respect for his master coachman. He always recites the name of his guru before harnessing the horses. According to him driving a horse cart through the busy streets of Dhaka is very hard. But he wants to continue doing it as he loves this work and his horses.
The Last Fishermen of the Buriganga
The Buriganga is the life line of Dhaka. But with pollution and waste disposal we have almost killed this river. The waters of Buriganga have become black thanks to the poisonous chemicals dumped by nearby factories. Once Buriganga was a bountiful source of fish and fresh water, and there were many fishing villages on the bank of the river. With mass urbanisation and pollution, these fishermen have had to leave these areas. So, when we meet one of the last descendants of Buriganga fisherman we are naturally surprised. We ask them about their work. One of the fishermen says that he and one of his neighbours are still into fishing. The catch is not good. Fish can only be found after the rainy season. With such a small catch, he can sell only a little after. He does another job during the dry season-- ferrying people by boat from one side of the river to the other. But he also says that he will never leave the Buriganga as he regards it as his mother.
Dhaka is the melting pot of all the cultural specialities of Bangladesh. The tradition of old Dhaka and cultures of the rest of the country have set a new dimension in the livelihood of its citizen. The rapid change of the country's economic situation is also a contributing factor, but the innovative and unusual profession of its citizens will always make this city more charming than many others of the world.
PHOTOS: PRABIR DAS
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