Behind the Scene
Balloons and Combs for Hair
Phul Miya is one of many individuals to have seen their homes gone from erosion. Over the last three years his home has gradually been swallowed up by the river. For a long time he was homeless and wandered around living at his relatives' homes. But one can only live this way for so long. He didn't have any money to buy any land; Phul Miya felt completely hopeless after his ancestral land was gone. When this native of Haluaghat, Mymensingh had absolutely nothing left, along with his wife and four children he got a train headed towards an unknown destination. The train finally came to a stop the next morning at Comilla station. The fifty-something Phul Miya got down with his family. At first he had no clue as to what to do in this new town. After looking around he finally got shelter in the Shashongacha Mirzarpar slum. He rented a room with the last bit of cash that he had from selling his cow. He realized that he badly needed work, so he set out to find some sort of employment. That's when he met Akkas Ali. Taking Akkas Ali's advice he hit the roads with just 90 takas hoping to do some business. Now, Phul Miya and Akkas Ali do this business together. Not all year though. They do this only in the winter. It's better for Phul Miya that way. In the winter they have virtually no competition.
Even though this business is a little different, Phul Miya seems to like it. All day he goes from house to house collecting hair, and in exchange giving them balloons, thread cheap earrings, combs etc. Sometimes he travels to the Comilla upazilas. He usually collects hair that has come off the heads of women. He collects hair that just casually comes off while combing or stroking or hair that just falls off for no reason. Sometimes the households are told in advance. He tells them not to throw away hair that has fallen off. So all the women of the upazila save their hair just for Phul Miya. In return the women get fashion accessories or toys for the kids. That's why everybody is usually excited to see Phul Miya walk into town. He has gotten so well known across the villages that the villagers often call him “Chul Miya”. Sometimes households that know him well have him over for dinner.
The toys and accessories that Phul Miya distributes are purchased at the Comilla Chawkbazar Wholesale store. Everyday he needs to start off with about Taka 60-70. After collecting all the hair, he takes them to Mymensingh or Noakhali to a factory that 'produces' the hair into bundles. There is a great demand for hair among these factory owners. They purchase every kilo of hair for taka 450 to taka 500. One kilo of hair can produce four to five bundles that are worth taka 250 to taka 300 each. These factories are usually unwilling to purchase hair from saloons. That type of hair is useless, they have usually said. Phul Miya has recently heard though, that even saloon hair is being purchased these days. Color companies are buying this. He is still looking for those buyers.
Phul Miya sells hair two to three times a month. Each time he sells about three to four kilos of hair on average. But for this, he needs to go around collecting hair every day of the month. Given that he spends about taka 60 to 70 a day, he says his business is doing just fine. He is able to feed his family. His toughest days are over. His kids get two proper meals every day. He has left the slum and has rented two rooms.
Asked if he'll do this all year round, Phul Miya who is now afflicted with asthma replied that once he had a little more money, he would purchase a bicycle and broaden this business.
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