Two men are sitting hunched on a rough cement floor of a tiny room. They are peering down on a piece of red silk, which is fitted into a square wooden frame in front of them.
They do not speak to each other, but exchange silent glances and nods as their fingers work swiftly around golden and silver threads and create intricate designs of blooming roses on the fabric. The work is painstakingly elaborate, yet looking at their pace, it seems as if piercing clothes with thick needles is an easy job.
Within the next few days, this fabric will be turned into a stunning dupatta to drape around a bride on her special day.
Passed on from one generation to another, these embroidery and karchupi works that require days, weeks and sometimes months to complete, are all handmade by a group of skilled artists who live in Geneva Camp in Mohammadpur.
In the rapidly growing urban chaos that Dhaka is, Mohammadpur is an area known for the conveniences it offers to its residents. The residents do not have to go far for anything – hospitals, schools, gyms, everything is a stone's throw away.
On a regular day, it looks as normal as any other area in the city with blaring horns, buzzing kitchen markets and bustling bus stands. However, there are things, which sets it apart from other localities such as these embroidery shops and the long line of garages near the Geneva Camp.
Opposite to Mohammadpur Model School, there is a narrow alley with 7-8 of shops, which usually remain open from 10:00am till 10:00pm. The ones such as Maa Fashion Jori House and Khushi Jori House have been operating for as long as 15 years. Small spaces such as these are rented out at Tk4000-5000 per month.
Ali Akbar, one of the workers sitting at Maa Jori House, looked up and smiled from his frame when The Business Standard photojournalist asked him to look at the camera. He was working on an order from a restaurant that asked for a dozen or so t-shirt logos for its workers.
In a casual conversation with us, he informed us that he has been working for the last eight years. He learned from his father who used to do the same work.
"The threads, imitation beads and trinkets etc. everything we buy in wholesale from New Market and Chawkbazar. Only during Eid and wedding seasons, we get hefty orders. Other than these times, there is not much work," Ali said.
Khushi Jori House specialises in karchupi work and the three workers there were not very happy about the way business was running. One of them, Md Hussain, said, "Foreign clothes have ruined it for us, markets are flooded with these machine works. We have to pay our workers' salaries, pay the shop's rent and also earn enough to run our families but it is increasingly becoming difficult."
Sitting beside him was another worker, Nowshad who was working on a yellow kameez. He chimed in, "Look around us, every shop is running poorly. We cannot work as fast as machines so orders do not pour in as much as they used to."
From here, we walked towards the nearby garages. At any time of the day, some vehicles or the other are being fixed or mended with screws, steel plates etc.
Stench from open dustbins on the opposite side of the road makes it difficult to breathe, but the owners and mechanics seem oblivious about it for their homes are right behind the workshops.
One of the owners told us that there are about 90 mechanic shops or garages in that area. Some of them have been here since the Liberation War. They all look the same though, with their stained walls and rusty metal parts hung from hooks.
Not every garage operates the same way, some of them work on repairing motorcycles while some others only work on CNG driven auto rickshaws.
Most of the shops source products from the wholesale markets in Bangshal and Thatari Bazar of Old Dhaka. If you want small auto parts or lubricants, this place also offers them at reasonable prices.
Mohammad Nasim has been operating his tiny shop for over a decade. It was a family business, he told us, but surprisingly he did not want his son to come to the same profession as his.
As soon as we began to talk about his son, the lines of irritation on his forehead became smoother. "My son is studying at seventh grade, I hope he gets a steady job when he grows up," he said with a smile.
The owner of Hasmat Engineering shop, Murtoza, was busy with paperwork when we introduced ourselves and requested for few minutes with him. Without looking up, he signalled at one of his workers to bring tools for us.
"This shop is nearly 40 years old, my father used to sit here, but now he is too old," he said. He also did not envisage his son taking over this business. "I did not have a choice but my children do, maybe their future will be different."
"This shop was rented out to me ten years ago," said Md Haji Ismail of Bismillah Auto Parts. A man in his fifties, he looked like a traditional businessman with white Panjabi and chequered lungi. His shop was perhaps one of the oldest, or at least it looked like one with dense cobwebs and dust covering all the corners.
As high-rise buildings and extravagant shopping malls take over the once tranquil neighbourhoods in Mohammadpur, the area grows new identities, but eating out at Mustakim's never loses its appeal, hand embroidered clothes never go out of fashion and fixing your bike at half the market price remains a win.