Abu Sayeed lives in Jamaibazar of Korail slum. The 25-year-old youth is from the northern district of Dinajpur. Even though he spent his childhood and adolescence in the village, he has been living in this slum in the capital for a number of years.
He was a mason, but with no work amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he became unemployed at the end of last year.
After that, he took up various odd jobs and even worked as a day labourer, but could not settle into any of those jobs. There has been no opportunity to return to construction work as well.
Sayeed now works as an assistant to a local businessman. He delivers construction material from house to house. In return, he gets a salary of Tk5,000 per month. As such, his average income from working all day is a little above Tk150.
Of this Tk5,000, he has to pay Tk2,700 in rent for a room in the slum. He has to run his family for a whole month with the remaining Tk2,300.
He has been married for a couple of years.
Unable to support his wife on his meagre earnings, he sent her to his village home. But in the meantime, he has had to borrow over Tk30,000. Sayeed is now very anxious about how he will repay this money.
"When I was working as a mason, my monthly income was over Tk15,000, thanks to a daily earning of no less than Tk500. But now I've no work to do as a mason. My current income is too inadequate to run a family."
"A couple of months back, I was forced to leave my wife at our village home. My earnings are too little to bear the expenses of two people in this city. It is not possible to light the stove on most days when the salary money is exhausted. The cost of living is high here. You can say that I sent my wife to the village because I was unable to ensure food for her," he continued.
"My father is a small farmer. With his earnings, he finds it hard to bear the expenses of a family of four members. In this circumstance, I left my wife, putting extra pressure on him. Actually, I was left with no other option. I can hardly feed myself with my income. Therefore, there is no point in causing my wife further distress by keeping her here."
"Last year when everything was shut down, I did not leave Dhaka. I thought the situation would be fine soon, but it did not. I have got no work as a mason in the last six months. Members of the group I worked with have all parted ways.
Sayeed said he already has five months of house rent unpaid. With a fresh lockdown in force, he feels he will not be able to pay the rent this month either.
"How long can it go on like this? I can't support my family on my meager income. I can't get any other job either."
"The business I'm currently working with is also facing a downturn due to the ongoing lockdown. This means it will be difficult to get this month's salary. If so, I have to borrow again," he said.
He does not think about returning to the village, as there is no guarantee of a job there.
"I came to Dhaka, a soldier of fortune. Everything was going well. I got married and had a family. But after the coronavirus outbreak, I could not keep my wife with me. I feel ashamed to say this, but the situation has compelled me to do so."
As the conversation was going on, Abu Sayeed was called to work. He left for work saying, "The suffering of the poor knows no bounds, but no one sees that. We are slum people and our lives have no value."