I first met Robiul Islam one winter evening last year in Chalan Beel.
His small wooden boxes - hundreds of them – laid on a field beside bright yellow mustard flowers caught my eyes. As I stopped my car and approached the boxes, Robiul appeared from inside a canvas tent, his eyes inquiring.
"Are you the honey man?
"Do you sell? May I buy some?"
"Oh yes.. Come inside."
We stepped inside his tent – quite an elaborate arrangement there with a nice thick bed on the ground to fend off winter cold seeping up, a few clothes neatly stacked over some wooden boxes, cheap melamine plates and glasses resting on a bamboo rack, a few aluminum rice spoons and a pitcher.
And some big jars full of something liquid.
As he poured honey from the jars onto plastic water bottles, we fell into a small conversation.
Robiul has been camping here for the last one and a half months, feeding his swarms of bees on the mustard flowers. Maybe another 15 days and he will be gone with the flowers.
As darkness was fast creeping in he had dinner to prepare. We had to say goodbye and leave.
He was just another forgotten character off the road.
Six months later I met him again, this time in Dohar by the Padma.
The familiar wooden boxes stopped by car. And again the familiar face of Robiul appeared. He recognized me immediately and a broad smile spread over his roundish face. His uneven beard remained the same, I could not see his hair even today as his head was tightly wrapped with a cloth.
"How is the honey going?" I asked.
"This is not honey season. Monsoon is just a dull time."
"Then why are you here?"
"This is the breeding and sustaining time," he explained and indicated the marshland across the road.
Robiul then explained in detail how he keeps his bees and how he became a beekeeper from a three-wheeler driver. The story sounded fascinating, of how a poor guy from Satkhira, the southern district close to the Sundarbnas that is one of the worst climate change affected areas, has changed his life.
And all of it because of a livelihood initiative of the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation, a government organization. And it gave me a first-hand experience of how life-changing schemes work in real life.
But for now, Robiul explained why he needs that marsh land for his bees."Since it is not honey producing season, you see there are now flowers around, no mustard, no lichies, the bees have to survive," Robiul said.
So the bees are fed on sugar. Robiul opened a box and pulled out a wooden frame that was swarming with bees. It was basically a square beehive. Inside was a small sugar pot.
"Do you see that yellow thing?" Robiul pointed to a cell in the hive. "That is the flower pollens. For the first three days when the eggs hatch, the larvae feeds on pollens. Without the pollens they do not survive."
That explains why he is here by the marsh land full of lilies and Dhaincha plants. The bees fly to the marsh land and bring pollens from the lilies and Dhaincha flowers.
We saw larvae and pupae, the stage before the larvae become bees, moving around.
"Come Agrahayan, we will move out from here and go to Challan Beel again as mustard flowers will bloom," he explains.
The mustard flavoured honey is a delicacy. And then he will move to Chapainawabganj with his three lakh bees in 80 boxes for the lichi flowers. After the lichi flower ends he will move to the Sundarbans to tap the nectar from the mangrove forest.
And so will go on his never-ending journey.
Robiul's life was once bound to Satkhira town. He would make sorties with his electric rickshaw. But one day he came to know about bee rearing and curiously participated in the training given by Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation.
Then he left his profession and became a beekeeper.
"Life is good now," Robiul said. "Last year, I made 40 maund of mustard honey, 20 maund of lichi honey and 12 maund of Sundarban honey."
Big companies like Square are his buyers. And extra cash comes as he sells bees too.
Last year he sold bees worth Tk 60,000.
"I still have some lichi honey left. Do you want it," Robiul asked before reaching out for the pot.