A glance at the walls that separate the roads of the architectural maze of Dhaka city has never been a source of joy, let alone retinal pleasure. As busy commuters we also have no time for enjoying wall paintings as may be the case in many modern cities across the world. Torn out posters, advertisement pamphlets chipped plasters, scribbles and stains have made the walls the worst visual sites of the city that is caught in a development frenzy. Any exception to the picture seems to bring absolute joy.
While whizzing through the Mirpur Road near Dhaka Shishu Mela, your eyes will suddenly catch the site of a wide wall covered with colourful gamchhas. At several points of this road which is the busiest in the metropolis, gamchhas, our traditional towel to wipe oneself dry, are on display, so overwhelming to the eye that even the most uncaring urban denizen would sigh a sigh of relief and savour the sight.
Gamchhas are sold from morning till night and if this display seems a new ploy for the sellers to attract buyers, it simultaneously lend the walls a look that no other street product would be able to match.
Beauty and business go hand in hand here at Shyamoli. According to Jamirul Islam Mandal, one of the oldest vendors in this area, the business has become a regular one from 2015. And surely, the colours have caught on – now they extend till Kalyanpur.
A livelihood for many people
42-year-old Setaur Rahman moved to Dhaka from Chapainawabganj district two and a half years back when he hit the nadir with his clothing business in his own village. After much wandering around in search of livelihood, he got this idea of selling gamchhas here from a friend. So, he invested Tk 20,000 and bought gamchhas from Sirajganj.
"The money I earn from this small business is not something to crow about, but it has brought some extent of stability to my family," said Rahman.
The story of Md Iman Ali is almost identical. He owned his own grocery shop in Sirajganj but had to leave his 36-year-old profession because of the continuous loss.
"Moving to Dhaka eight months back, I started this business and I want to make it big in future," said Iman.
Following in their footsteps, Jahidul, Jamirul, Motaleb, Sohrab, Ismail and many others have found a better way to earn a living through selling gamchhas on the footpath.
Every morning they open their large sacks full of gamchhas, display their wares which is akin to decorating the walls with gamchhas of red, green, yellow, blue, black and many diffrent colours. They call out to the customers restlessly till 10 pm through the whole week.
Gamchhas, being a traditional cotton product of our country, is produced in many localities well-known for this item. The Shyamoli sellers mainly source their products from Tangail, Karatia, Kumarkhali, Baburhat, Sirajganj and from the wholesale shops in Gausia Market, Dhaka.
Some bring the products himself from far off places, some collect it from others who bring it here in Dhaka.
The materials of the gamchhsa items are mainly cotton, synthetic, polyester or mixed.
The tally of sale
The seven regular gamchha sellers on the footpath outside the SOS building sits every day with at least 100-120 gamchhas. Depending on the material, each of this costs Tk60 to Tk200. At the end of the day, they can take a way Tk500 to Tk700 as profit every day.
The investment varies depending on the status of the seller. Some of them pay the wholesalers on weekly basis when they go to collect the products, some pay them on a regular basis through electronic payment system.
Md Habib, a construction worker, was seen haggling with the seller over the price of a yellow gamchha. According to Habib, "The small street shops have lessened our toil. Now we don't need to go to the market. Besides, the prices here are also less than that in the city markets."
Rahel Akhter, a garment worker living in that locality, also emphasised that the vendors made buying easier and said that she gets her gamchhas from the same spot.
In terms of demographic features of the area, one may assume that with the presence of a vast middle class and lower middle class population, gamchha sale was an inevitable reality. That there are stretches of walls and people like Iman, Jahidul, Jamirul, Motaleb and Sohrab have thought up a unique way of getting the walls draped to find a way out of the financial woes is something mull over.
In terms of business and beauty, the gamchha bazaars' contribution to the society is something to crow about. As Nurjahan Beguam, a local, so boastfully puts into words, "This footpath was a dirty place before they launched these shops here. The vendors keep the area clean and the walls also look colourful and bright, both of which are important in today's hectic life."