Many of the photocopy and computer shops in Nilkhet are trying to stay afloat by becoming book shops. Some have closed down while some have cut back on the number of staff
The footpath along the bookshops and the photocopy shops at Nilkhet used to be one of the most crowded places in Dhaka city.
Staring from a distance, you would probably only see a sea of heads, bobbing up and down. Even at night, this place swarmed with customers, mostly students.
Not only did the shops sell every kind of academic book, but even the smallest of them were specialised in printing out and assembling term papers, assignments and projects.
But with Dhaka University remaining closed for nearly a year, these shops are now mostly empty. Small businesses in and around the campus, which were dependent on students, are also suffering.
Many of the photocopy and computer shops in Nilkhet are trying to stay afloat by becoming book shops. Some have closed down while some have cut back on the number of staff.
The shop Al-Nur has been in business for the last 10 years. It suffered huge losses during the pandemic. Pointing to a dusty, grey printer, one of the shop's staff Abdul Kader, said, "I have forgotten the last time its cover was lifted."
Among three of their printers, one stopped working from not being used. Now the shop's income comes only from some official work, which is not sufficient to pay its Tk53,000 rent.
A little farther from Al-Nur is Digicom and this shop is best known among PhD and MPhil students for neatly arranging and binding thesis papers.
Its owner Ekram informed us that the shop's income has come down to less than half and it is becoming increasingly difficult to pay the TK85,000 rent. He said, "Some of my employees have left, paying salary to the existing ones is also a problem. Only the Almighty knows how we are living."
Neuron Books is a 20-year old shop, which mostly used to earn from doing photocopies, laminating work etc. But for the last six months, the shop's entire look has changed.
Now, instead of photocopy machines, there are books piled high on wooden tables. Inside the shop are more shelves packed with engineering and medical books.
Shop staff Sumon Miji shared with us that their income has fallen to Tk10,000 from Tk30,0000 to Tk40,000 on average every month. Paying the Tk70,000 rent is an ordeal now.
When we entered the shop SS Enterprise, its owner Md Nasiruddin Babul was sitting on a plastic chair with a grim face.
"Some months we do not even earn Tk5,000. I am paying bills from my own savings, and loans. Look around, I have so many things in the shop, I cannot just throw them away and shut it down! Our business depends solely on students, without them we are nothing," he sighed.
S S Enterprise has been operating since 2007 but Babul and his employees never faced anything as terrible as the pandemic. "We are hoping for educational institutions to reopen, or else we do not know how long we will be able to go on like this," he added.
Once you enter TSC, you will see some familiar faces such as the churiwaali or bangle lady who used to sit in front of the ATM booth. Now she has shifted to the stairs near the tea shops because that corner has been closed due to the Metro Rail construction.
Students and visitors know her well because she smiles at everyone and calls her female customers "Maa".
We got to know her name that day - it is Toki. "I have two names, which one should I tell you?" she asked us. Toki is apparently the name her parents gave her.
In front of her is a wooden case with colourful glass bangles. She has been selling glass bangles in TSC for almost 16 years.
"Even during the lockdown I used to come here every day from my home in Kamrangir Char. No one came, but I would still sit here from morning till night with the hope that at least one person will buy some bangles from me. I used to earn Tk1,000 to Tk2,000 every day. And now I make Tk500 to Tk700," she said.
From March 2020 till now, all the food shops inside the campus have remained closed. The area near the Commerce Faculty, which students fondly call "Shadow", is completely empty with shutters of the tiny food shop tightly locked.
Hakim Chattar is a popular spot for delicious and cheap meals but it is now emptier than ever. The small green shop at the corner, known for its deep fried snacks in the evening, is also closed.
We then spotted Delowar Hossain, an acharwala or pickle seller who is famous among students for his kachkola bhorta (spicy plantain mash). The sound of his iron pestle hitting the mortar could be heard throughout the day before the pandemic.
"I do not know whether it is coronavirus or God, but I have never seen anything like this. I do not even earn Tk500 a day but I have accepted my fate," he said.
He told us that his pickles barely get sold because customers have become more health conscious and do not want to eat street food.
While leaving the campus, we saw something that immediately caught our attention. Just like a scene from a film, in a photocopy shop near the MBA building, a man with a pair of sad eyes was sitting with his chin resting on one hand.
The shop was empty, with not a scrap of paper nearby. His name is Faizul and he is one of the five or six shop staff, none of whom come here anymore.
"Both of the printing machines are damaged, we have suffered a huge loss in this one year. I do not know of anything new to tell you. I open the shop in the morning, and close in the afternoon because nobody comes," he said.