Shariful Islam, born in Nakhalpara, Dhaka, started his journey as a traveller in 2008, with his first bicycle tour from Teknaf to Tetulia. A couple of years later, he cycled to all 64 districts of Bangladesh on his bicycle in 55 days. His book, 64 Zillai Ki Dekhechi, based on his experiences from the trip, was released at the Ekushey Boi Mela this year.
Shariful, who journeyed from the coast of Cox’s Bazar to Teknaf on foot in 2009, has cycled in Malaysia and Sri Lanka. He further planned his first skating trip along the Marine Drive coast of Cox’s Bazar, in 2017.
His family has gone through several financial difficulties over the years. “I had to stop my formal schooling at the age of ten, as my parents were unable to pay my tuition fees,” says Shariful. “My name was permanently taken off from the school registers when I was in third grade.”
Self-sufficient from a young age, Shariful sold bananas as a child. “One of my maternal uncles came to Dhaka and started living with us. In exchange for the place we provided him, he offered to buy us food,” he adds. Shariful’s uncle had set up his banana stall in front of a mosque. Every day, while his uncle was away getting groceries, Shariful looked after the stall.
Shariful resumed his schooling after a gap of three years. During that break, he held several jobs to meet the basic needs of his family. “In those three years, I had worked at a tailor’s shop, a garment factory, an electronics store, a betel-leaf shop, a DVD store, and as a banner writer in my area,” he mentions.
His mother passed away when he was in the seventh grade. “Soon after my mother’s death, my father left me and my brother, Chisty to fend for ourselves,” he expressed. After that incident, his life took a new turn. Looking for full-time work, he started knocking at people’s doors until Bablu, an acquaintance from his locality, helped him to find some volunteer work at Bishwa Shahitto Kendra. “I used to work for the book reading sessions. Each day, I was allotted a stipend of BDT 25,” shares Shariful.
It became very difficult for him to survive on such low income. Thus, he went on to work at a mobile recharge shop, where his salary was BDT 1,000 per month.
Soon, Shariful was unemployed again, and it left him homeless. He could only afford one meal a day. His brother helped him to arrange accommodation inside a library, close to a mosque. “The library did not have a toilet, so, we had to use the one inside the mosque,” adds Shariful. “The mosque closed at 11 every night. After it closed, I had to climb the mosque walls to go to the bathroom.”
Shariful eventually landed a job at the Centre for Asian Art and Culture (CAAC), where he had access to computers. He started learning the basics of computing after everyone left the premises. “I met a boy named Rafi in CAAC. He inspired me to learn the basics of how to use a computer,” says Shariful, who currently works at the Centre for Advanced Theory at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).
Shariful plans to go on his next trip soon. Besides that, he is working on his forthcoming book, Cycle Bhromoner Rojnamcha, which he hopes to release at the next Ekushey Boi Mela.