Business only picks up pace during holidays or end of the week when homebound passengers flock Shadarghat. Yet traders wait patiently at the ghat for it is their only source of income
As the sun nestles against grey clouds in an afternoon sky, the launch terminal in Shadarghat slowly wakes up from a snooze. For now the usual hustle and bustle is missing, but soon the half-empty platform is going to be swarming with passengers.
Rusty railings surrounding the pontoon, once painted blue, sway against a backdrop of dark, frothy water of the river Buriganga. The small, unalarming waves disappear as soon as they hit the wharf.
Sirens from departing launches sound like an elephant's trumpet as passengers scurry about with their luggage.
Men, women and children make themselves cozy on mattresses inside the launches which are hours away from departure. Some of them are propped up against dull green pillars and fanning themselves folded newspapers.
A chanachur seller walks around with his weaved basket adorned with red tomatoes, green chilli and freshly cut onions. He wipes the sweat off his forehead with the gamcha that hangs around his neck.
He carefully adjusts the metal pot of burning coals at the center, it keeps the snack warm. A little girl in pigtails nags for it, but her mother retorts with a stern "no" and goes back to talking over phone.
Not many passengers remain outside yet eager sellers scatter around the terminal with products ranging from seasonal fruits to Chinese earphones to children's toys.
These men, who work on and around the terminal from late afternoon till night, survive on meager 300-500 taka worth of sales per day.
Business only picks up pace during holidays or end of the week when homebound passengers flock Shadarghat. Yet these traders wait patiently at the ghat for it is their only source of income.
Everything seems afloat in this place, from the brimming waste on the water, to the tea-stall on a murky wooden boat, the kind seen the most on Bangladeshi rivers.
The owner, Md Humayun Kabir, is swiftly mixing spoonful of condensed milk into tea liquor. As he hands out the frothy concoction to his customers, he says, "I only go home on Eid, otherwise the boat is my home." He hesitates to say that he doesn't have a place to stay in Dhaka, his nights are spent on the boat.
They're not allowed to trod on the launches' communal sleeping space with sandals. Their muddy ankles are a sign of their desperation to make ends meet as they jump barefoot from one launch to the other.
Abul Hossain, a grey bearded man who looks older than his claimed age of 70, has been selling cigarettes, paan (beetle-leaf) and lozenges at the ghat for 20 years.
His face is a map of wrinkles and he winces every now and then to express his discontent about his business.
His routine is the same every day, he comes here at 2pm and leaves at 11 pm but income is never satisfactory. Back home in Khulna, he has a large family to fend with sons who are unable to earn enough.
"When the police come, we have to pick up our things and run away from them, at this age, I don't like this uncertainty anymore."
On the other hand, seasonal fruit-seller Abdul Quddus is quite content with his business. A man in his fifties, he seems to have no trouble carrying large pineapples tied with ropes which scratch against his thin garment.
While he speaks, Kashem Ali, who has products hung meticulously all over his body, both arms and even the waist, stands at one side and eagerly listens to the conversation. He too chirps in, "What we earn just covers our bare necessities, can't even think of anything beyond!"
Near Wais ghat, the air is thick with an overpowering smell of rotting fruits which are strewn everywhere. The fresh ones are gathered in ceiling high piles inside the Badamtoli market, the biggest whole-selling spot in Dhaka for seasonal fruits.
The undesirable fruits too have consumers and they are sold right outside Ahsan Manzil. Sellers are busy swatting flies away from smashed grapes, blackened apples and decaying oranges, kilos of which are sold at 60-100 taka.
A five-minute walk from there leads to foot-path shops which can barely be called shops. The sellers sit on the road on stools or mats and only some have umbrellas on the top. The clothes up for sale are old and stained and the used cell-phones have mysterious origins. Second hand clothes seller Taiyab Ali collects his products from different households and the especially old ones he sells for mere 30-40 taka. On the flip side, the cell phones are expensive or so they seem at each priced between 3500- 5500 taka.
As Dhaka city's only port, hundreds of launches arrive and depart from Shadarghat terminal, centering whom, business goes on. From Humayun to Taiyab, the ebb and flow of the Buriganga river continues to give them life.