19 November 2012


Bashabo, south-eastern fringes of Dhaka; 25° C

First meeting in Dhaka and first visit at the rickshaw garage

Here he is, 215km away from his home, wife, children and the village lads with whom to chat at the bazar. The small hut where he stays on rent with his family in Kodamtoli cannot but be described as humble, yet Enamul’s accommodation in Dhaka – if one can speak of accommodation in the case of the one square meter (marked by one mosquito net each) he’s allowed to occupy in the rickshaw garage – denies any idea of dwelling. So at least appears at first sight, when the mix of impotence, concern and anger about the circumstances in which my friend has to live in this shack on the capital city’s southeastern fringes, overweighs other considerations. Enamul however smiles and stresses how good this place is. We enter and spend time there to discover he’s somewhat right.

It’s late afternoon, time of changing shifts: some of the men, having concluded the daily duty of ca. 8 hours, return and pass over the cycle rickshaws to those who work at night. Enamul and his mates, now, can relax. They refresh themselves quickly, at a hand-pump located on the backside of the garage and climb upstairs, on the corridor, to deposit the earned money in some travel bags, keeping aside the amount to be paid for the rickshaw’s rent. Some don’t come back but remain there to play cards; others will get down and hang out around the rickshaw garage, maybe drink a tea… Enamul, who loves golpo koraa – telling stories, chatting, exchanging views on whatsoever topics –, relates to this “other home” priorly via the correspondence with the men that stay at the garage, who share his same destiny. It seems to be a reason of pride that people from three different thana, Horikhali, Sariakandi, Gabtali, all in the district of Bogra, work in the same garage together. At the same time, everyday routines and various duties help to create a “home”: from the simultaneous start for a day of work in the morning and common relax hours in the evening, to the household. He for example has learnt to cook and wash his clothes on his own: ‘if I stay here for one month, don’t the clothes become dirty? They need to be washed! What is the shame of washing your own clothes? In Bangladesh, wives do the washing, but for different reasons I wash my clothes by myself even at home. If she is sick, I’ll wash my own clothes’.

In the course of the evening, I realise that his relative satisfaction also relates to what he describes as “having a good owner” – meaning the owner from whom he rents his rickshaw (and at whose garage Enamul and his peers are put up). Speaking about him, he declares: ‘if someone is good, no one leaves him! You are good, I will not leave you; you are treating me well, behaving well with me, it will be unjust to leave you. You will be hurt’. This fidelity goes so far that Enamul and his mates wouldn’t leave the garage even in overcrowded times, when people exceed the number of available rickshaws and hence can ride, and earn, only every second day or for shorter shifts. ‘We are 40, 45, 50 people in the garage, and there are forty rickshaws. Now you [the “good” owner] said – hey, I have been taking care of you for eleven months, won’t you do the same with me for one? Enamul-bhai, I have supported you in different ways, now there are ten excess people, so drive one day, he will drive on the other day. This happens before Eid, everyone needs work and money’.