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Cover Story

Dhaka by Night

Elita Karim
Photos: Zahedul I Khan

It is after midnight and there is enough activity on the streets to think that Dhaka has not yet gone to sleep. Loud honking trucks bring in goods into the city, passengers bound for Chittagong and north Bangladesh board the last few buses, a few dubious looking young men walk around meaninglessly, musicians carrying guitars and keyboards returning from the late night Moghbazaar practices on rickshaws and people disappear into their homes and to other locations in the city to watch the late night World Cup football match.

“Sodium Saddam’ is what he calls himself. This rather eccentric-looking young man wearing a lungi and a tee-shirt with shiny decorations can be found on Nazimuddin Road, an old part of town and very much alive after midnight, especially at weekends. Moving through the silent and ghostly streets of Motijheel and then suddenly entering the loud and colourful part of the old city is a jolting transformation.

Nazimuddin Road after 12 am.

It is almost 12:45 am and the street seems to have just started their day. 'Sodium' Sadam, who has a cell phone almost stuck to his ear says he works in a private company. He does not bat an eyelid as his picture is being taken; rather he poses like a professional telecom ad model. “I am speaking to my 'kachher manush' (someone close to my heart),” he says impishly. A sugarcane juice maker, sings a Bengali film song under his breath and a sizeable crowd of locals start to follow the journalists who keep asking questions. A few of them get upset and move away once they are informed that it is not a 'reality TV show'.

The famous Hajir biriyani is closed. Its exclusivity and fame do not allow the shop to entertain guests who come from all over the country, beyond 8 or 9 pm every night. The other biriyani shops such as Mamun biriyani shop, stay open the whole night. “We have to stay open the whole night, since we get plenty of customers in the middle of the night,” says Mohammad Jamal Hossain of Tawheed Hotel. “For instance, workers working in the nearby shoe factories come in after work or sometimes in the middle for food.”


The most popular items on the menu are parathas, bhuna mangsho and tea which make for a wholesome after hours meal.

The next stop is Kamlapur Railway Station. On the way to the station, are young men feverishly hanging or gluing on to the wall, posters and decorations for the FBCCI elections the next day. The team stick posters on the walls and the pavements as well. “Oi! Can't you see where you are going?!!” comes a loud scream and a few more expletives from one of the campaign team members. Two trucks have just rushed by the people working on the side tearing away the strings of posters that were going to be hung from one side of the street to the other.

“Oi, what did you have, huh? Did you take drugs?” an officer at the Kamlapur Railway Station asks one of the young men loitering around at the station. It is almost 1:30 am and it is easy to see that at night, the platform is the home to many.

Scenes at the TSC after 2 am.

At another part of the station, there are dozens of people on the ground, sleeping next to each other, oblivious of the loud arguments around and people walking over them to get to the other side. A closer look reveals a young man to be not more than 17 or 18 years. The confident smirk on his face indicates that he has no idea of what is happening at the moment and that he will forget everything in the morning. “He had some ganja, sir,” comes a reply from one of the young man's friends. “Ganja!” screams the officer. “You think he would behave this way if he had only Ganja! Speak up, you son of a pig, what did you have!” demands to know the officer, this time literally poking the lad with his stick. The smirk getting all the more confident and dangerous, the young man says something under his breath and moves on, completely ignoring the officer.

Walking the cows in the middle of the night.

“Who are and why are you taking pictures here?” the officer-in-charge demands and immediately is on guard upon discovering the presence of journalists at this ungodly hour. “Oh, they are all passengers,” says the officer when asked who those young men are, pasting an official smile on his face. “Many of them missed their trains and decided to go back home. They will be moving to their destinations in the mornings,” he adds. He points to the so-called 'passengers' - half-naked children, thin men with hollow cheeks and dazed eyes, exhausted women fast asleep.

Two am. Dhaka Medical College Hospital. It is surprisingly quieter than usual but disturbing as always. The halls seem ghostly. Patients with bleeding bandaged arms, legs and noses are strewn all over the floor. Obviously, there is no space inside the cabins or wards. Two police officers guard a criminal who is also lying down on the dirty ground, wincing in pain. One of the officers sit straight while the other wakes up with a start and gets back to his chair. Thankfully there are no 'emergency cases' yet and the only activity that can be seen are the little shops serving rice and daal, buzzing with business.

Rafiq, the ardent Argentina fan.

2:30 am. TSC (Teacher Student Centre). The TSC area is filled with people watching the match between England and Algeria on the projector. Right beside the crowd, a group of youngsters are playing their own match. “I support Argentina!” screams Zahir, one of the young people in the group. All the way from Lalbagh, Zahir informs that he had studied till class 8 and now works in a workshop to support his mother. “But I love football. That is why Ammu lets me come here and play with my friends.” Rafiq, driver of a cycle van is seen seriously carrying on a conversation with the people around him. “I mainly work at night,” he says, “I go to Kawraan Bazaar and deliver raw materials.” This ardent Argentina fan makes sure that he does not miss any of the matches. “The projectors set up for the public makes it easy for me to finish work and then enjoy the matches.”

As the match ends on the large projector set up at the Rabindro Sharobor in Dhanmondi, people start leaving for home. Two young university students - Sunny from Shewrapara and Shumon from Dhanmondi linger on. Both of them are Argentina fans and study at Eastern University. “We watch the late night matches here,” says Sunny, “Sometimes we also watch them with more friends at someone's home. This area is quite safe and everyone knows us. That's why, we usually prefer to come here to watch.”

Ice-cream parlours are popular after-hour hang-outs.

Mohammad Dulal, a rickshaw puller is also seen on the spot. He does not miss the matches and can be found either here or in Hazaribagh during the matches. “I work at the Apex Tannery in the day time and pull the rickshaw at night,” he says. Yet another Argentina fan, Dulal says that as long as he can give the fixed daily amount to his employer, he can watch the matches. “It is the World Cup season. Maybe that is why my employer is very kind towards me!” he laughs.

Three am. In front of the Prime Minister's office. Mohammad Kamrul Islam and Mohammad Shafiqul are guiding a large herd of cows and buffalos towards the butcher shops in Gulshan. “We do this every night,” says Islam. “We walk the cows all the way from Gabtoli to Gulshan every night and sometimes to Uttara as well.” An ardent fan of Brazil, Islam gives an open invitation to whoever is interested to watch the next match with Brazil playing, at the Gabtoli Gorur Haath, where a projector has been set up for everyone to watch the football matches.

Gulshan and Banani seem dead at 3:20am except for the lone security guards of ATM centres. Most of them are sleeping. Some are discussing the matches at one of the construction sites on Banani road 11. One of the guards informs that a crowd of young people who usually hang out in front of a popular ice cream parlour and a tehari house Dhanshiri, both located in Gulshan 2, have just left.

3:30 am. Hazrat Shah Jalal Airport. The airport seems to be one of the popular hang-out spots. There is a large group, waiting for something. One young man named Sadek says he had come all the way from Sonargaon city. He is occupying a big chunk of the pavement, with his son, brother, wife, brother-in-law, father-in-law and many more relatives. He is a migrant worker and will be flying to Singapore at 6 am in the morning. His family is there with him to see him off. “I have heard of the bad traffic jams in Dhaka,” he says, “I did not want to take the risk of getting stuck. This is why my family and I are waiting for the flight for the last few hours.”

The drive back home is uneventful. Dhaka, after hours, has turned out to be less exciting than one would have hoped.


Mohammad Jamal Hossain. The day starts after midnight for the employees at the biriyani houses.


A scene from an Old Dhaka wedding ceremony. 'Sodium' Saddam.


An exhausted security guard on Banani Road 11.


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