His presence is ubiquitous at street corners, on the pavement of shopping malls or any busy spots of the city. The afternoons and evenings are the most propitious time for him. His business roars with the sun setting in the western sky on the gloomy horizon beyond. Like a vermilion tip the sun slowly sinks into oblivion -a good enough cause for him to become nostalgic. It is the time when he herded his cattle homewards or was in the last round of gollachut or ha-du-du or danguli in his village. Hardly did he think of struggling to make both ends meet and engaging in a trade unknown in rural Bangladesh.
Yet it is the reality. The man in his mid-forties -although looks far older -is now roasting a whole corn ear (maize) for which a customer is waiting. And there are several such customers standing in wait. He is in a hurry, so are his customers. But even fire has a capacity to bring the raw yellow grains into desirable temperament. Those must not be overburnt nor left unburnt. The burning coals must produce a low fire and the corn has to be rolled over it cautiously and wisely in order to give the grains on all sides of cylindrical ear the right tan.
Fortunately for the maize man (that is what he may be called), there is no need for spices and an elaborate arrangement as is required for cooking most dishes. Nor is there the hassle of serving the roasted maize ear on plate -disposable or otherwise. The stalk is good enough for one to hold on to and nibble at the grains. The smell of the burnt maize in the wintry evening is appealing enough particularly for children and young people. The street treat is particularly so because of the novelty of the food and also because of the fresh aroma it sends all around.
One can walk on and leisurely give a bite or two to the corn either with or without a wrapper -a sheet of paper. No need for plastic or polythene wrapper. An ear of corn weighs 100 -150 grams and when the inside stalk-like holder has no more grains, it can be discarded easily. Even this light corncob can be used as fuel. But the maize man does not have the opportunity of collecting those because his customers would not stay to eat the grains right in front of him. It takes time and unlike the chatpattiwallah or futchkawallah, he has no chairs or tables for his customers.
All he has is a van on which he places his open oven and corn ears along with a bottle of oil and some salt. A little oil he sprinkles on a maize ear before it is roasted like chicken. Usually there is no need for salt but there are some customers who cannot eat anything without salt. So the provision of this mother of all sweeteners is there.
It is a trade that is conducted in the open. His customers have the liberty to browse through the heap of ears stacked on the van and choose the one to their liking. He himself has to be cautious in making the selection of the corn ears. Those must be matured enough -neither too soft nor too hard. The soft unripe variety will not serve his purpose and the ones fit for late harvesting too will prove tasteless. It is in between the stages when the corn ears are most suitable for eating.
Business of the man is good. But it is only seasonal. The van is used for carrying goods throughout the year. Even in the winter the first half of the day is spent for similar purposes. In the evening session the maize roasting brings him extra income. An enterprising man like him can save some money at this time of the year. This is what serves as his security for the future. He can also indulge in the luxury of buying new warm wears for his children and wife back home. A man with a rural background, he has kept his eyes open and thus his side trade has brought him an income in order to meet exigencies. This is how illiterate and unlettered people of this country have seized opportunities and adapted to hard times.