This morning, two messages popped up on my phone, out of the blue. Both achingly similar.
"Assalamalikum Sir. Ami goto 18 tarikh theke bhosa tai ami khub bipode aci. Apni Jodi paren amakey kichu help korben. Amar basay kono bazar nai aj 5 din. Kichu mone nibenna sir. – Nannu karma"
(My salam to you sir. I have had no work since the 18th of last month. I am in great distress. If you can, please help me. I have no food at home for the last five days. Please do not be upset, sir. Nannu Karma)
The next message said: "Assalamualaikum sir. Kmn asan sir. Amar obostha onak kharap. 1 mas dora kono kaj kam nai. Onak kosta asi sir. Ama k kisu sahajo korla onak valo hoto sir. – Nasim"
(Salam to you sir. How are you? I am in a dire situation. I have had no work for the last month. I am in great distress. If you could help me, it would have been great for me, sir. – Nasim)
One came from a mason in Patuakhali, and the other from a barber in the Geneva Camp.
This sort of distress signal has become all too frequent nowadays as the country grapples with the global coronavirus pandemic.
And, more often than not, such calls are all too visible.
As you walk out of home, numerous hands extend towards you.
They belong to a house help who used to work part-time and has been tossed out by the employer in fear of coronavirus contagion. They belong to a rickshaw puller, who used to earn enough to send his two sons to schools.
They belong to a daily wage labourer who used to sit on the Adabor road near the Japan Garden City for work every day with his wheat straw basket and a grubbing hoe.
He bides at the same spot today on May 1, anxious, and hungry, in the vain hope that someone would come his way for the only service he has to offer – the strength of the stringy muscles of his gaunt body.
Today is May Day – a day to commemorate the struggle of the workers to establish their rights. But for these people, and hundreds of thousands of others in Bangladesh, and 1.6 billion people globally, it is a despairing day, making a Mayday call.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned almost half the global workforce are in "immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed" by the economic impact of Covid-19.
When the economy shut down for the unavoidable stay-at-home order, it shut down the source of livelihood of a large part of our labour force that operates informally.
Some 85 percent of the people work on short-term contracts or are self-employed like Nannu Karma, the barber.
They live by the day, day after day, no matter how the GDP leaps and gallops every year.
Only 6 percent of the workers earn on average $6 a day. That is barely Tk500, and they have to consider themselves lucky as 94 percent earn even lower.
The hungry mouths in Nasim's home, and many others', go unfed if their breadwinners cannot go out for a day. And it has been more than a month that work has vanished for them. How they are getting by beggars belief.
A Brac survey has shown the urban and the rural poor saw their incomes eroding by up to 75 percent as the virus sank its teeth into the fabric of Bangladesh's society.
Nasim's time for reckoning came when the salon he worked at on Road 113 in Gulshan shuttered. The owner handed each of the eight hairdressers Tk5,000 as a gesture of goodwill. That was all he could afford because his business was gone too.
But the formal sector has not delivered the workers much either.
The garment sector, the biggest employer in the country, laid off their workers as soon as the lockdown began, leaving them high and dry.
The garment factory owners acted as if this $30 billion-plus industry did not have any reserve to pay the paltry salary of the workers during the lockdown. It was, ultimately, we, the taxpayers, who had to bail them out.
The labour structure has remained nearly unchanged for such a long time that the underdog class's resilience has not developed at all to tide them over such eventualities.
Yes, poverty has declined drastically. But that poverty line is still very much visible; only a slight hiccup and those people slip right back into destitution.
And that is what has happened today, sweepingly, because it was not just a blip, a bad harvest, a sudden flood or even a cyclone. It is not a touch-and-go affair.
It is here to stay with the world economy set to dip sharply, and as the World Bank says the Bangladesh economy will grow the highest by 3 percent in a best-case scenario. (The figure is contested by Bangladesh, but nobody can deny that the dip will be severe).
Bangladesh's economy has transformed in the last few decades. Agriculture has taken a back seat in contributing to the GDP. The service sector has grown at an extraordinary clip. Manufacturing has stood straight on the back of the apparel industry.
Yet a major portion of the workforce is still ploughing the fields. And a large part of the service sector is made up of small traders and other self-employed people but not the kind of sophisticated enterprises that could churn out more blue-collar jobs.
So when the economy received a mortal blow from the pandemic, it was obvious the Nasims and the Nannu Karmas had found no shore to swim to. They cannot beg. They cannot even call and ask for help.
All they can do is send messages that hide their chagrined faces and expose our stony ones.