Habibur Rahman, the caretaker of Faridpur Muslim Hotel, was fixing a toilet doorknob when we first met. It was the only functional toilet in the hotel that around 30 tenants use every day.
Faridpur Muslim Hotel is one of the five floating hotels on the Buriganga River near Babu Bazar bridge. Previously located in the Waisghat area, these boats were shifted near the boat-ghat under the Babu Bazar bridge around six months ago.
"I do not feel the foul smell of the river as you do. I have been living on this boat for nearly half a decade and got used to the smell of Buriganga," Rahman told The Business Standard.
On a beautiful sunny day under the bridge, my first concern was how long could I handle the foul smell of the Buriganga River. Thanks to the water transports and indiscriminate industrial wastages, Buriganga water, where it meets the Nababi ghat of Ahsan Manjil is pitch black and heavily contaminated.
Once upon a time, there were many floating hotels on Buriganga. But at present, only five still survive on the river bank.
Entering the lower part of the two-storey hotel, I found some people idling away – among them was Adul Hakim, a fruit seller in his late fifties.
"Living cost is affordable. Most of the tenants here are rickshaw pullers, day labourers, or fruit sellers like me. We are poor. We do not have time to think about the smells," said Abdul Hakim.
A few people lying beside the narrow corridor peeped through while Abdul Hakim was talking; as soon as I tried to approach them, they crawled back and refused to speak.
These hotels have a reputation as the cheapest hotels in the city. They used to charge as low as Tk30 per day a few years ago. But now they charge Tk110 for a day.
"The surroundings here are awful. But where in this city could you stay a day for Tk110? Thus our hotel is very popular among the poor people," Habibur Rahman said.
These floating hotels have the capacity of having 25 to 35 tenants a day. Rahman said most of the seats are booked, always; "the demand is very high," he added.
The longest tenant of Faridpur Muslim Hotel was Abdur Rahman--a fruit seller-- who lived there for more than 40 years until his death last year.
Like Rahman, there are a couple of other people, including day labourers, rickshaw pullers, fruit sellers who have been here for decades.
Among them is Junayed Mia, another fruit seller from Shariatpur. He has been living in Faridpur Muslim Hotel for more than 20 years.
"It is like my home. Not a decorated place to live, but affordable. If I rent a small flat inside the city, it would cost too much; I could not have enough money to assist my family back in the village," Junayed Mia said.
Like others, Junayed Mia is also not worried about the surroundings. He can drag cigarettes, have tea and spend hours by the Buriganga bank without giving any thought about the stinking water or the health hazards it poses to them.
The floating hotels in Buriganga first popped up in the fifties. At that time, the hotels were mainly for Hindu traders who would come to Dhaka by the river.
There were many such floating hotels in Buriganga before the independence of Bangladesh.
But after the independence, the number of these hotels sharply declined. The oldest of the five surviving hotels is Faridpur Muslim Hotel, said Mustafa Mia, one of the owners.
"My uncle Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah founded this hotel back in 1975. A few years ago, he gave me ownership of the hotel as a token of my 35 years of service," Mustafa Mia said.
Mustafa Mia also has been living in these hotels for a long time.
As retired secretariat official Abdullah had little time to look after the hotel affairs, thus managerial responsibilities were on Mustafa.
"I began working here for Tk 700 monthly salary. I went abroad to work for a short time, but did not stay for long. Uncle wanted me back and turned me into the owner."
Now, a well-to-do family man in comparison to the tenants of Faridpur Muslim Hotel, Mustafa Mia does not think about the Buriganga, foul smelling water or the health hazards.
"This is my livelihood. I depend on it just like my tenants depend on launches to sell their fruits. I have no option to think about my surroundings.
"Buriganga water was not always like this. The water was much better even 15 years ago and we are not the ones who turned this river into a dustbin. But we are suffering the consequences. Ask this question to the people who damaged the river."