From intercity bus drivers, to printing press workers to night guards – some people have no options but to work at night
The road underneath us was almost like a dirt path, with muddy patches after a splash of rain.
We tried treading carefully but ended up soiling our shoes anyway.
Although traffic was at a standstill on the opposite side of the road and shrieking horns filled the air from time to time, the Gabtoli bus terminal itself was somewhat quiet.
It was half-concealed in darkness; it had that gloominess brought about by the pandemic.
Something we witness all around us these days.
We were out to explore Dhaka and witness how this vast city changes at night.
At the same time, we intended to talk to some people whose work begins after sunset.
Given the choice between working during the day and working at night, most of us would choose the former.
But, not everybody gets to make that choice and for some businesses, night is the only time when they have to operate.
Md Robiul Islam has been driving overnight buses on the North Bengal route for six years.
He said he got used to staying up at night, but it was 9pm and he already looked exhausted.
Drivers like him usually work for 12 hours and rest for another 12.
However, Robiul admitted that sleeping during the day is not very comfortable but dozing off while driving is even worse.
"I usually do not take any chance. If I feel tired or need a rest, I tell my boss to give me some time off to sleep. Most accidents on the highway at night happen because drivers feel sleepy at the wheel. 'Ghum ashle, shobai morbe' (if sleep comes, it will kill everyone)."
He does not drink tea or chew paan (betle leaf) when he is at home, but on the job, he has to rely on these two to battle fatigue and drowsiness.
According to Robiul, the night is a tricky time.
It fools people, and at the same time, puts them in danger sometimes.
We asked him whether he ever saw something paranormal.
He paused for a few seconds, cleared his throat, and then replied, "I hear things from others, but I have not yet seen anything like a ghost. Maybe there are such things, what is the point of meddling with them? What I have witnessed are gruesome accidents and dacoities. I once saw a man being split in half after a bus ran over him. Only yesterday, near Savar, a gang of six to seven men carrying 'chapatis' (knives) tried to stop our bus, but thankfully, nothing happened. I once had a passenger carrying drugs on the bus, he looked like an ordinary farmer, later the police caught him during night patrol."
It was time for Robiul's shift, so we left and went towards Kawran Bazar.
By this time, the roads were empty and the night was darker.
Flooded by the yellow light from street lamps, Kawran Bazar was slowly waking up from its day-long slumber.
The commotion here usually starts from 12am and goes on till noon.
When we met Joshim, he was sitting on an overturned jhuri (basket), the kind mintis (porters) and hawkers carry at markets.
His hair was neatly oiled back, and his rubber choppols (sandals) were not yet stained, indicating his work had not yet begun, his mood seemingly fresh.
He was shy at the beginning but gradually began to open up when his younger friend Robiul joined him.
Joshim hailed from Mymensingh, his family still lives there.
He used to be a farmer.
Both Joshim and Robiul live here in the bazar.
They sleep during the day and earn as much as Tk500 per day.
Apparently they can sleep through any noise.
"The day time is great for us, we sleep, we eat, we bathe, or just lie around. Night is not easy, it is just work and more work," said Robiul.
They showed us their sleeping place, a sort of courtyard which also doubles as a storage space.
The air was heavy with the smell of vegetables, both fresh and rotten.
Flies and mosquitoes were buzzing near murky pools of stagnant water.
And of course, there was the heat.
But people like Joshim and Robiul do not have the privilege of sleeping on a soft bed with pillows.
They fold their hands beneath their heads and sleep, some curl up inside the baskets and sleep.
Soon, a truck load of fresh pumpkins came in and a rush began.
Workers began to quickly toss them from the vehicle, creating a huge pile of pumpkins within minutes.
We left the bazar and were en route to our next destination, a printing press in Tejgaon.
As said earlier, some areas of Dhaka actually wake up at night, but these are not discotheques!
Yet they are just as lively.
The deafening noise of the printing machine, the bright white tube lights, the operator sipping on his cup of liquor tea and running to and fro his station – suddenly, we were in a place far different from Kawran Bazaar.
There was a race going on, the race to get all newspapers printed on time.
At the same time, the print quality had to be maintained.
News came alive in this place, and that feeling was evident everywhere.
A group of men were sitting on the floor and tying up bundles of newspapers, another group was operating the machine while the managing and supervising personnel anxiously walked around.
Every time, a test copy came out, there was a rush to check the quality, colour, etc.
Md Sohel Islam, senior operator at this press, said the night no longer felt different than day.
His family understood his work, and that was enough for him.
Moreover, he could get many things done during the day, something he considered helpful.
"I work from 8pm till 3am. By the time I go home, it is almost dawn. I pray, get something to eat and promptly go to sleep," said Sohel.
It was past midnight when we decided to strike up a conversation with Mithu Miah, a security guard at an ATM in Mohammadpur.
Mithu works from 10pm till 6am and the only thing he has to rest on is a small tool, the kind which gives a backache just by looking at it.
But it was the least concern for Mithu, he was just glad to have a job.
He used to work in the parceling department of a restaurant and lost his job during the pandemic. "I went home to Rangpur during the shutdown and could not come back on time, so they fired me. I needed a job, so I jumped at this opportunity."
His salary was not yet fixed, he did not know much about the job except that he had to be on guard for eight hours every night.
We did not see him carrying any water bottle or food box, perhaps he had some inside the ATM booth.
Perhaps he went hungry for those eight hours, we do not know.
He had a family back in Rangpur who relied on his income.
From the hubbub of the press, suddenly the night felt long, and treacherous, just as bus driver Md Robiul Islam described it.