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The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Dhaka's mobile alleyway vendors


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Not long ago people living in the reputably quiet neighbourhoods in the capital used to rise from bed to the sweet warble of different kinds of birds. After all, chirping birds have not yet fully disappeared from this city plagued by cacophonous noise and air pollutions. The ubiquitous crows notwithstanding, the lucky people can still catch the fleeting glimpses of woodpeckers or robins or other tiny birds moving freely amid the nearby trees. Of late, these sweet notes of small birds have been overwhelmed by the loud and harsh calls of street vendors. Lots of annoyed people are forced to open their eyes hearing the hawkers' ear-piercing canvassing. They enter the lanes and alleys pushing vans filled with myriad types of merchandise. The most dominant of them are fresh vegetables, followed by products ranging from fishes, chickens, fruits, spices to even plastic utensils for household use.

These mobile vans selling day-to-day necessities had become a part of the capital's lanes ever since many people stopped visiting markets after the clamping of corona-triggered shutdown across the city. Indisputably, the pandemic-conscious people welcomed the vendors --- especially the middle-class housewives. The vendors gave them an opportunity to choose their favourite items from a wide array of products. But although the shutdown order has been lifted, with many people resuming their daily visits to their respective areas' kitchen markets, there are few signs of the hawking vans disappearing anytime soon. Instead, their queue is getting longer with vendors selling new items joining them. Earlier, their business activities would be limited mainly to vegetables, fruits and fishes. In the recent times, mobile hawkers offering services of 'shil-pata khodai', sharpening of kitchen knives, purchasing discarded electronic goods and scraps and many other petty ones are becoming normal sights in the capital.

The neighbourhood residents are not supposed to object to these trading activities; no matter if they are knife-sharpeners or locksmiths. Many of them have been involved in these trades in the 400-year-old city for generations. The humble businesses have never been viewed as impediments to the neighbourhood peace. Yet due to a section of over-enthusiastic itinerant vendors, using high-volume hand mikes, these normally peaceful businesses have lately started drawing the ire of people. They are used to residing in the quiet areas. A lot of neighbourhoods have banned the entry of these mike-using vendors. It's because a few of the defiant traders have begun using the loud-hailers from early morning. To the late-rising people or those with heart ailments or are allergic to the sounds of mikes, the very thought of these vendors fills them with dread. In the meantime, it's the traditional hawkers using their voice at a high pitch emerge as the victims of a wholesale ban on the entry of vendors to a locality.

According to social researchers, the change in the style of vending assorted types of edible and non-edible products and services points to one thing. If the trend takes root, it will lead to yet another change in the lifestyle of Dhaka residents. In most probability, the development will not be salubrious; because the entry of hawkers en masse into a homely and tranquil environment, allegedly with the backing of some locals, is set to spread to newer residential areas. In time, the combined result might emerge as one detrimental to the creation of peaceful abodes in this increasingly chaotic city. It's worth remembering that the corona-time will one day be completely over. So the discouragement of mike-using itinerant hawkers needs to be started without delay.

shihabskr@ymail.com

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