The whole market is closed. The mouths of the narrow alleys of the Islamia Book Market is closed with metal shutters. Some book sellers are waiting around their shops for buyers. When a customer comes, they secretly show the books and sell them. It seems these book sellers are
doing illegal activities.
"You don't know what a miserable life I'm living now! If I can sell a book and make a Tk50 profit, even that helps a lot," said a book seller seeking anonymity.
"It is very tough to sustain my family any longer, I don't have enough money to buy even daily necessities. I cannot beg on the street. Then what can I do?" the man asked.
They are getting customers, but the number is insignificant.
As the market authorities have shut down the market, the sale of books; be it second-hand or new, academic or literary, has been prohibited by the market authority. As a result, the small book sellers are leading miserable lives.
The book markets in the Nilkhet area were closed on March 24 for weekly holiday. On the same day came the government's announcement of a country-wide shut down. From then on, the bookshops of Nilkhet are closed.
The two-month-long shutdown has already paralysed the financial capacity of Sufi Mohammad Nuruddin Momen, a small bookshop owner of Islamia Book Market.
Due to the lack of money, he began staying at his in-laws house in Kishoreganj soon after the shutdown had been declared. In normal times, he would sell books worth around Tk12000 and make a profit of Tk1500 to Tk2000 every day. Though his income and outgo are nearly equal, he never fell into such a hapless situation.
Paying a monthly rent of Tk25000 for the shop, and Tk12,000 for a small two-room house in Kalabagan, he could somehow sustain the family. But as the shops closed, he had to leave the city.
"It is shameful to live in father-in-laws house at this age, but I had no alternative but to go there," said Sufi Mohammad.
Sufi said he has not received any financial support or food aid from the government.
"I cannot tell you how we are passing our days," said Sufi.
Like Sufi, around 500 book sellers of the country's landmark book market are struggling for survival during the shutdown.
Another bookseller, Mohammad Sadikuzzaman, has been doing his business for the last 12 years. He sells engineering, BBA, MBA, GRE, IELTS books at his shop- Swapnil Book House- at the Islamia Market. He also sells all types of books online.
"I used to sell books worth Tk40 thousand a day," said Sadikuzzaman who is staying at home in Mohammadpur with his parents.
"The whole family depends on my income. I'm living on my savings now.
He also did not get any relief from the government, nor did anyone came to enlist his name for financial support.
He said there is a huge demand for the books online, but he cannot deliver the books to customers because the books are locked up in the shop.
"I am uncertain how long it will take to open the market. I am running out of my savings," said Mohammad Sadikuzzaman.
The Islamia Market has around 500 bookshops.
The book sellers said that the sale will increase only when the educational institutions will open. The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a speech said recently that the educational institutions may keep shut until September unless the situation improves.
The market leaders said there is actually no bar to open the market, but they are not opening it as it will be hard for them to maintain social distancing guidelines.
"It is impossible to maintain social distancing inside the congested shops and narrow paths," said Ali Akkas, secretary general of Islamia Market Multipurpose Cooperative Society.
"Moreover, the schools and colleges are still closed, so we have kept the market closed," he added. Ali Akkas said they were planning to open the market after Eid.
Book shops in the Islamia Market sells books worth Tk1 crore every day. The sales double in the peak season from January to March.
Other market leaders also confirmed that they are not opening the market due to the worsening Covid-19 situation.
"In this situation, we cannot ensure social distancing. Moreover, many shop owners do not want to open their shops risking their lives," said Daud Ullahhil Mazid, general secretary of Hazrat Bakushah Hawkers Market Cooperative Limited.
"There is no demand for books during the Eid time, so who will come to buy books when they are not even coming to buy clothes," added Daud, who is also the general secretary of Nilkhet Greater Market Oikko Federation, a platform of eight markets in the area.
Daud acknowledged that most of the book sellers are having hard times during the shutdown. He said no one helped shop owners and they did not get any government support during this crisis.
Other book shops see few customers
There are nine bookshops in the Aziz Cooperative Super Market. Simanta Kaumar Das, owner of the bookshop Sandhipath at the Aziz Market said he could sell only one or two books every day.
Book sellers said that many people buy books when they come to buy new clothes before Eid. But the picture is different this year. They are seeing a very low shopper turnout. Like other bookshop owners, they are also facing financial hardship.