Unlike most other hawkers on the city's buses, Tipu Sultan does not sell things like brushes, pens or peelers. In fact, if you think he is another professional hawker, you will be wrong. Tipu Sultan is a writer, and in the last five years, he has published two books and a series of maps of a number of districts.
"I wrote the books [Rail Pothe Bangladesh and Bonus: Basic Spoken English Guide], published them and sold them myself. I sold one lakh 22 thousand copies of Rail Pothe Bangladesh and that too on the trains," said a boastful Tipu.
He appointed a couple of salespersons for this. "But you need to be an educated, smart young person for this [work]. Look at me, all grey hair on an almost bald head; I can't even canvass loudly because I have aged. But I am never satisfied with the sales guys.
So, in 2017, I decided to get on the buses myself," recalled Tipu.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) records, Dhaka city has 366 bus routes with more than 150 companies' buses running around the year.
The routes with the highest number of buses - carrying the highest number of passengers - are Motijheel to Uttara, Motijheel to Mohammadpur, Motijheel to Mirpur-10 and Motijheel to Gabtoli. Almost all of these buses cross Gulistan, Shahbagh, Bijoy Sarani, Karwan Bazaar and Banglamotor.
These points in the city are the most lucrative for hawkers like Tipu Sultan, who is also a businessman with an electronics shop at Fakir Alamgir Lane in Khilgaon. But he still sells books on buses.
"I could die anytime as I am an old man now. And I did nothing to be remembered when I am no more in the world. I don't want to vanish like that. That's why I have chosen this way to get into people's minds with my books," said an affirmed Tipu Sultan. I must admit, his answer surprised me.
Tipu even approached publishers to get his book to Boi Mela, but he was rejected a couple of times, and so he chose to canvass on buses.
However, not everyone is as fortunate as Tipu Sultan who had a choice in the matter. Md Shah Alam is also a fellow salesperson who keeps looking for possible customers on the city's buses.
Shah Alam grew up in Bogura and was raised with a lot of affection as the only child of his family. At the age of 25, while doing his master's in Islamic Studies at the Government Azizul Haque College, Shah Alam encountered a life-altering tragedy.
A devastating river erosion took away his home, his youth, his identity.
"I had lived in Bogura all my life, or it was a past life, you could say. Then one morning, I was teleported to this life, where I am a penniless hawker with a first-class graduation degree in hand, who sells toothbrushes and other things on city buses," said Shah Alam with a pained expression.
Due to Jamuna river's erosion, Shah Alam lost his home, and he had to abandon his pursuit of a master's degree. Now, back in Bogura, his old parents live in a rented house. Shah Alam came to Dhaka four years ago, and ever since, he has been a hawker selling English grammar books, toothbrushes, fish scale peelers, etc., on buses in Dhaka.
It is the Mirpur-Karwan Bazar-Shahbagh route buses on which he generally hops on and sells his products. Shah Alam gets these products from Chawkbazar and Sadarghat of Old Dhaka. And on an average day, he makes a profit of Tk500.
But it was not easy for him; it was not like he lost his home and immediately jumped into this business. "I had always been a good student. I had a first-class graduation degree, and I don't think any graduate would think of becoming a hawker," said Shah Alam.
After he lost his home, Alam went to the local MP for a job or some investment that he could use. "I kept going to him for almost a year, and I got nothing, not a single favour from him. Then someone suggested that I shift to the capital. And here I am, after a lot of mistakes and a heap of self-pacifying lessons, a professional canvasser or hawker," said Shah Alam.
Shah Alam calls himself a professional hawker because now he knows every nook and corner of this business. He recognises the bus conductors; he knows which buses allow hawkers to get on and at which hour the passengers are the most irritated.
"Now I can look at the audience and tell if I can convince them or not," Shah Alam revealed his tricks.
Women are the best audience, but…
Shah Alam thinks, among the bus passengers, the women are more easily convinced, but it is the men who are the actual buyers, and said "Most of the female passengers don't take the purchase decisions (their male counterparts do). And also, there are always fewer women on a bus than men."
But Md Mohsin disagrees. Mohsin has been in the floating sales business for the last 15 years. From kitchen essentials like dal ghutni (lentil whisk), peeler, spatula, etc., to pain-relieving ointment and cough candies, Mohsin has sold a wide range of items all around Dhaka city.
Mohsin thinks it is the women who are always the best buyers. The day I met him on the Labbaik bus that travels from Savar to Chittagong road, he was selling an ointment named Zambak, which he claimed could relieve any sort of muscle pain.
While he was giving his promotional speech on the bus, two elderly women bought the ointment from him while another woman complained that it does not cure anything. Well, Mohsin did not care much and left the bus after he had made three sales.
"Women in our country don't want to bother others with diseases, so they look for inexpensive solutions. For example, I sold a lot of cough candies during the winter, and most of the buyers were women," Mohsin told me.
"From Savar to Signboard, I sold my stuff on almost every bus for the last 15 years. And with time, the number of women has increased over the years," Mohsin explained.
And now that the price hike has attacked the lower and middle-income groups of people, hawkers like Mohsin and Shah Alam are hopeful to have a rise in their sales as their products are a lot cheaper than the usual market price.
The sales speech is pretty important
Every single one has a different style of approaching their customers. For example, Shah Alam uses many English words in his speech. He thinks it makes him look educated, which convinces people to buy from him.
On the other hand, Mohsin relies on his speed and rhythm. "When you speak in a certain rhythm, people notice you. And if you approach with a confident and loud voice, the customers are assured to trust you."
But Tipu Sultan is quite unemotional towards his customers. "Not everyone is educated to buy books. So I don't mind. I want genuine readers to buy my books."