Mahfuz Sadique on what Eid day means to the thousands of rickshawpullers of Dhaka….
Angur Sheikh is the eccentric one among the rickshaw pullers at his garage. He refuses to pull a rickshaw for fares on Eid day. Though the Gaibandha man — like most men at his garage in Dhaka’s Adabar area — cannot afford to go home for Eid, Angur has plans for the biggest holiday of the year. He will do what he sees Dhaka’s rich people do everyday. On Eid day, he says, with northern accent, ‘Rikhsha loiya ektu ghurmu firmu. Khap khatmu na.’
As more than half of Dhaka’s population have left for their native homes in a mass exodus, the streets of Dhaka wear a deserted look. But the inconspicuous rickshaws, and their pullers, are still here. Not because they want to; because they have to.
Despite having left home and pulled rickshaws all through the month of Ramadan, Eid has added incentive for the men on three wheels. For three days starting on Eid day, garage owners forfeit the rent on their rickshaws.
‘For us that is Eid. Whatever we earn is ours. For three days we try to earn as much as we can, and then leave for home,’ said Parimol from Rajibpur, Kurigram.
Even extra earnings are not incentive enough for some to stay. But yet they are stuck.
‘If I could I would have left. But before Eid it is almost impossible to get a ticket. Bus tickets to Gaibandha cost at least Tk 150-200 more. I can’t afford that,’ said Angur Sheikh.
The two little pink dresses for the nine-month-old twin daughters, the green sari for the paribar (wife) and the brown belt for the teenage brother, all have to wait. They are tucked away in the worn-out bag at a corner of the makeshift mess atop the garage. Here, seventy other men sleep, and dream of the same things that Angur Sheikh dreams of.
Dozens of rickshaw garages are housed along Road No. 16 of Adabar, a low-income neighbourhood, just beside Mohammad-pur. Men from the same village, or the same thana, rent rickshaws from one particular garage.
Zahir Miah is the owner of one such garage. He owns thirty rickshaws. While all through the year his garage houses anything between 30-35 men, this Ramadan has seen a rapid rise in the number of men coming from his locality, Dimla thana under Nilphamari district.
‘Right after the tenth of Ramadan, they started coming in groups. In the hope that the festive season would give them employment in the capital, as there is barely any work in our area [Dimla thana], they are still calling on my mobile from back home to ask if more can come,’ said Zahir on Thursday.
Though this Eid the situation is more severe than in other years, as monga — the agricultural lean season in the northern districts that leads to a lack of employment resulting in a famine-like situation — and Eid have coincided, the situation has a similar pattern every Ramadan. This time it seems, even fate has shown its sense of irony!
Right from the beginning of Ramadan every year, thousands of men start pouring into the capital from all over the country, specially from the northern districts, in search of some work. The simplest and readily available, or as Motaleb from Zahir’s garage put it: ‘nogoder kam’ (‘work for cash’), is pulling rickshaws.
‘But even pulling rickshaws is not paying enough this Ramadan,’ complained Parimol. ‘With so many coming, there are more men in the garages than there are rickshaws. As a result most pullers are being given rickshaws on a rotation basis. I had to take yesterday off, as I got a rickshaw to pull the previous two days,’ explained Parimol.
‘With significantly more number of rickshaws plying on the roads, it has been hard to get commuters. By day’s end, compared to other Eids, I am earning nearly a hundred taka less. And so are the others. We are just too many,’ said Saju Miah, a puller from a garage in Kamlapur.
‘Add to that the hiked rent being charged by the rickshaw owners. Whereas at normal times, a city plate — registration plates of the City Corporation — used to be charged Tk 50-60 for half a day. Now we are been paying Tk 80-100.’
‘The rent for non-regular registrations has also gone up,’ said Abu Kalam, an elderly puller from Rangpur.
But Angur Sheikh is happy. His Eid will be different. ‘Ami sharadin ghurmu firmu, moen chaile tikit kaita cinema dekhmu.
Even if you want to, you wont be riding Angur’s rickshaw this Eid. He is celebrating his Eid on it.
Published: The New Age/ Eid-ul-fitr, 2005