At a time when the mayor of the Dhaka South City Corporation has waged a war on footpath vendors at Gulistan and in adjoining areas, Shahbagh and Farmgate appear to be the happy hunting ground for the latter. It is not just vendors, there are an array of enterprising people clamouring for their share of business there. Eateries-both permanent and mobile - are huddling like a beehive to attract customers. Vegetable, live fowls-both chicken and ducks-fruit, cheap jewelry or plastic ornaments, pickles stacked on vans right on the footpath, flower shops, pop corn frying van and rejected garment apparel, fresh boiled eggs from oven-all are sold side by side along a long segment of footpath and road. Some of the cheap hotels had a non-descript beginning with a polythene sheet overhead to cover their victuals for customers. Then they had a shack built with benches placed in rows for all who came to taste their foods; now they have upgraded the decor and look of their makeshift hotels with tiles on brick walls-although they are yet to have a permanent roof of concrete.
This shows how the roadside and footpath and even slices of some roads go under the illegal occupation of vendors and create chaos and anarchy that spread far beyond. When the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakhha launch evacuation drives from time to time, it turns a blind eye to such gradual encroachment on several key spots of the city. At Shahbagh, the foot over-bridge is also stacked with baskets, wooden bedsteads etc which are used for displaying wares on the footpath there. All this compound the problem there.
Once mostly a wholesale flower market flourished at Shahbagh and a frame of a building was constructed never to be completed. The entire area is awfully dirty with dilapidated structures dotting it. There is a public toilet which is mostly out of sight and its condition is indescribably foreboding. There is however a party office on the uncompleted structure. Right in front of the Shishu Park there are food courts which have a strange practice of draping their respective surrounding with cloloured cloths where chairs are neatly arranged for customers in the open.
Mobile eateries also take position on the food court's western side where the ambience is hardly attractive. They cater mostly for visitors to the Shishu Park. What is amazing is that there are a number of aged rustic looking women vendors who sell mostly bungles, cheap ornaments, beads bits of odd commodities that include palm-leaf or paper fans. One wonders how these old and docile women could have staked their claim to vending there.
Appearances may be deceptive, though. There is something fishy and confusing about the whole arena. The rush there is many times more because of the endemic traffic jam in between Shahbagh and Matsya Bhaban. Taking advantage of the traffic chaos, a new breed of enterprising hawkers has come up with wares ranging from potato chips to bottled water to all kinds of kitchen instruments. They get on board buses to sell their wares. Strangely, at Farmgate hardly one comes across such hawkers. There the mobile kitchens, alongside a makeshift kitchen market, are doing roaring business. Even one or two such open food courts serve biryani.
In both places the presence of an unlimited number of shops and vendors has led to an outsize anarchy. At Shahbagh, all this happens under the nose of a police camp there. The indiscipline and chaos with an eerie look of both places at night are good enough to unsettle a fresh visitor or even a seasoned urbanite. But no one bothers much about the clumsy, dirty and unhealthy look of the places. The two spots could give a refreshing look, though, if only the illegal vending and trading there could be controlled. All this happens not for nothing. There are parasites who take a share of the profit of the poor vendors in collusion with men in uniform. Two important city spots like these deserve to be maintained in a very dainty manner so much so that the refreshing look there can be pleasing enough through regulation of rush and traffic movement.