A Cosmic World for Students
Sumaiya Ahsan Bushra
Photos: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
Nilkhet for decades, has been a buzzing hub for students. In some ways, to those of you who are familiar with the famous Harry Potter children's literature series, this very hub is similar to Diagon Alley, a shopping area in London much hidden from the world of ordinary people. Similarly, Nilkhet serves as a multipurpose destination, where a student from any campus of the country is likely to find the basic necessities needed for school and university. Starting from small items like stationery to absolute essentials like bedding, almost every thing is available here!
No matter what your field of study is, it is all available in Nilkhet.
To begin with, stationery items are for all. Whether you are a good student or a bad one, regardless of anything, fancy stationery items are like collectables for some. Note books, pens, highlighters and other items, are available here from Tk 2 onwards. As Shamim Ahomed Kiron, shop keeper of N M B and Stationers states, “Around 90 percent of my customers are students. They buy stationery items all the time. The note books cost between Tk 35 to Tk 140 each depending on the number of pages they contain and also the brand. Apart from that, there are different kinds of pens available at this market. They range between Tk 250 to Tk 10,000.” Yes, for someone who has a hidden fascination for pens and loves collecting and using expensive pens, Nilkhet is their paradise.
Photocopy stores and printing press are of abundance.
Then there are books, the obvious reason why Nilkhet has made it to several headlines in the past few years. It is known to have the largest collection of books for students belonging to almost all sections. Since, Bangladesh is a country consisting of three separate education streams, namely, Bangla, English and Madrasa medium, books for each category are required round the year. And what better place to find them other than in Nilkhet, where there are different 'alleys' dedicated to different sections of education. Common signboards in multiple colours are often seen in these congested alleys, stating, 'Aikhane SSC/HSC and O/A level er boi pawa jay!' (Books for SSC/HSC and O/A level are available here).
If you are a med school students then you are likely to come across all the necessary apparatus.
Common subjects like Business, Medicine, Engineering books are ample. They are almost everywhere. As Shafiq, the book store owner of Shafiq book store states, “I have students from almost all universities. It isn't just Dhaka University students who come here. Even students from private universities from all corners of the city come here to buy books from me.” Apart from these subjects, books on Islamic studies, International Relations, Law and other unconventional field of study are found as well. Even though, one has to know the place inside out to find these stores but they are accessible.
While walking through one of the dingy inner streets of Nilkhet, one is likely to come across more signboards saying 'Law' or 'Madrasa'. In addition to this, there are stores for students who want to pursue education abroad. This is the best part about Nilkhet, although the poor quality of the print can be troubling at times, there is a huge collection to choose from and these are excellent guides to achieving success.
Students can easily have their clothes made.
Second hand books are also an attraction for Nilkhet lovers. There are tonnes of books piled in different corners all over the place, which were once owned by someone else. There is a certain mysterious history behind these books. Each book has a story to tell, as it is transferred from one hand to the other before reaching a particular owner. At times, they might be slightly torn from certain angles and will have a certain smell of old books.
For all those who love novels and take pleasure in reading old magazines, Nilkhet is the place! As Sumaira Hafiz, a Sociology student from Dhaka University says, “I pass a substantial amount of my time reading books. I come here often and usually the books I pick are very expensive if brought first hand. But here I only shell out Tk 250 for two books.”
Bedding items at Nilkhet are very affordable for students.
Another student Jabbir Kader from BRAC explains, “There are materials available in old journals and books, which are not easily accessible over the internet. Here we are able to find a rich resource of journals and magazines, which help us to write papers.” In addition Amer Mahmud, a student from Independent University of Bangladesh shares an interesting anecdote, “It's so true that each book here has a story. I once bought a book for my younger sister on her birthday. Even though it was a second hand book, it was in mint condition. Later, as I was flipping through pages, I found a letter. It was obviously a letter from the previous owner to someone very dear. This piece of writing, which I came across was a clarification of a misunderstanding that had taken place between two individuals. It was a truly heart warming note.”
Stationery, a common purchase amongst school and university students.
A third appealing factor is the digital photocopy stores. For students of both public and private schools and universities like City College, Eden College, Dhaka College, BUET, Dhaka University, organising programmes, completing presentations and doing assignments are daily life activities. There are school and university programmes for which students need to make banners, posters, flyers and brochures for publicity. The price of posters and banners varies depending on quantity and size. For most standard size posters the costs come to around Tk 30 while for banners costs Tk 30 per square feet. No extra money is charged for additional graphics and colour works. Students from schools and colleges nearby spend a huge chunk of their time in between classes working and preparing programme banners as explained by a vibrant bunch of young students from Dhaka College.
Then there are university students, who come here for digital colour photocopy, scanning, spiral binding for last minute presentations and projects. Nilkhet has served this buzzing bunch of students with utmost support and loyalty for the last few decades. As A Malek, the owner of the Bismillah Photostat explains, “Some of my customers are now teachers at Dhaka University. This not only makes me a proud businessman, but it also makes me a famous one. I have been here for the last twenty years.”
Some students stop by the bookstores simply to indulge in a good reading.
Another point, which must be taken into account when considering Nilkhet as almost a miniature city for students, are the tailors. Yes, for all those of you who were not completely aware of the existence of these tailoring shops, it is true! There are many tailors for all those freshly graduate corporate men and women out there. A perfect place for all business students, these tailors are very much affordable and extremely helpful. The charge for making a suit is Tk 2200 while for complete attire (including suit and pant piece) would cost around Tk 4000-5000. Most common purchases by students are the imported quality of pant material while for suits it is a fine mixture of cotton and tetron fabric. Different designs and patterns of cotton shirts are also available at cheap prices for students.
Additionaly, Nilkhet would be incomplete without its colourful bedding supplies. Nilkhet completes a day in the life of a student and it would be incomplete without the pillows and the mattresses, which are found there. These are mostly for students who live in nearby hostels inside and outside different campus areas. The single mattress costs around Tk 800, a pillow is priced between Tk 80-400, single bed sheet set is available at around Tk 320 and a mosquito net costs between Tk 180-300. During winter, students need quilts, which cost around Tk 500.
Second hand bookstores, a popular hub.
Lastly, after a long day between presentations, classes, and assignments, for students who live in hostels or far away, Nilkhet also serves apptising food. The famous Royal and Mobarak teharis are a must have. If a student has travelled a long way to get their assignments completed at Nilkhet, they usually stop by these eateries to fill their stomach with at least one plate of tehari. Even though other items like morog polao and kichuri are available, nothing beats the tehari with its aroma and small chunks of mutton or beef delicately mixed with coloured soft rice. For quick afternoon bites, there are stalls like Sobuj store where they have beguni, peyaju, aloor chop, jilapi for extremely economic prices. Surprisingly, everything at this store costs around 3 takas.
Nilkhet is not just a place where students go to get their assignments done. But it is life for all categories of students -- geeks or the slackers. Nilkhet has been there for years, but it is still a wonder to find a mixed crowd of students loitering around the area, queuing up for a plate of mouth watering tehari in the scorching heat or simply buying second hand books and notepads for class lectures!
An appetising meal for students after a long day.