Abul Bashar is busy on a call with a client – taking orders for carrom boards. He has just received an order of ten carrom boards. Such orders are coming every now and then, for the last four months, shared Bashar.
To supply the orders, his workers are busy in cutting wood, measuring plies, sticking nails, burnishing and colouring the carrom boards, in a factory. They are working relentlessly to deliver the boards on time.
The factory is actually a dark room where piles of wood and plies are kept in rows. With the lights turned on, they are working side by side. There is a tiny bed in the shadow for them to take rest. With a crosscut saw, workers are cutting plies leaving sawdust as residue. Sawdust and the smell of spirit is making the air mildly suffocating.
The workers have however gotten accustomed to working like this all day long. It takes a minimum of a day and a half to prepare a carrom board.
"It is a team work. Each of them are assigned to do an exact task and only when we put everything together does a carrom board come to shape," explained Bashar while supervising the workers.
Ever since the pandemic started, while most other businesses have experienced sharp declines, Bashar has seen his business grow. The same is true for most carrom board factories on the Aga Sadek lane. All of them are working hard amid this pandemic to meet the extra demand of customers.
S. M. Alamgir Hossain, another carrom board businessman, says, "I am in this business for the last 32 years but this is the first time that I have seen people buying carrom board like Hajir Biriyani, standing in a queue. And because of its sudden demand, the price has also increased over the last few months."
Badol Saha, an Old Dhaka resident, has come to buy carrom boards for his children and his in-laws. A year ago, when Badol bought this exact carrom board, it cost him only Tk400. Today, it costs Tk600. Yet, he has bought it.
"My teenaged children are at home and bored. In the beginning, they had a tendency to go outside every once in a while. Then I started to play carrom with them. Now, they are voluntarily staying at home and competing with each other," said Badol.
Usually, the price depends on the size and material that have been used to make these pieces. Nine sizes are available in the market now. Considering the size and quality, the price of carrom board can range between Tk400 and Tk5,000.
Usually this is the peak time for sale of carrom boards. But this year, the peak started much earlier. During the pandemic, they had great business behind the closed shutters. In the last few months, each factory owner has profited a minimum of 20% to 60%.
Police had seen them working but did not interrupt them. They were allowed to work inside the factories.
Nonetheless, they struggled to meet the growing demand. Soon enough, factory owners were in dire need of ply, wood and other raw materials. In most cases, the raw materials comes from Chattogram to Dhaka. Due to the shutdown, transportation was limited.
As the businessmen failed to procure raw materials in bulk, the price increased. In some cases, the price almost doubled.
Beauty, the proprietor of Prince Carrom factory, said they get a huge number of orders but they do not have enough manpower to make them.
"Workers went outside Dhaka by the end of March and they could not come back. A few of them returned and we have resumed work. Being empathetic to their situation, I could not even force them to come back," shared Beauty.
There are at least forty factories in Old Dhaka that produce carrom boards. But its rising demand has seen a few seasonal businessmen enter the market too as it takes little investment for beginners. A person can start this business with twenty thousand taka and one or two workers.
Experienced businessman Alamgir shared that these businessmen would not be able to sustain in the market, as a few months later they will incur losses. "This is detrimental to regular businessmen. Maybe we could do more business if they had not come in the scene," said Alamgir.
Over the years, businessmen like Alamgir have actually experienced a steady decline in the demand for carrom boards. Smartphones have taken over our habit of indoor games. This pandemic, however, has put a smile on their faces again. They are hoping people will rediscover its charm and appreciate indoor games more.
"An indoor game like carrom can be played with everyone. It is a great way to spend time and to strengthen bonds with family members," opined Ashraf Ahmed, general secretary of Bangladesh Carrom Federation.