In a perfect juxtaposition of poverty and progress, a rail-track beneath the Bijoy Sarani-Tejgaon flyover slithers its way past rows of shanties and a makeshift bazar where a few hundred vendors offer what appear to be everyday groceries.
Closer examination of the goods on sale, however, reveals a slight anomaly: the vegetables, particularly, look on the verge of going rotten.
The buyers, though, remain unperturbed. They do not consider the blemishes to be deal-breakers and instead use them to haggle down prices.
“Fokinni Bazar” — as it is known to locals — sells vegetables and fruits salvaged from the nearby Karwan Bazar, not pretty enough for the big markets.
The bazar comprises some 120 open-air stalls selling produce, and comes with its own unique origin story.
“This market started in 1983. Back then it was just 10 or 12 of us,” Morjina Begum, a vendor, recalled. She said it all started when those living near the rail lines began collecting vegetables that fell off wagons or were thrown out for being “damaged”.
After picking up the scraps, they took it to the bazar, and sold them for less than half the price. Morjina, with three children to support, began scavenging and selling — earning around Tk 100 per day.
The market got its name not from its customers but rather the profession of those who had set it up. At the time, the vendors would beg for a living.
Today, the bazar benefits many financially-challenged residents of Dhaka. Although the initial consumers were dwellers of the nearby railway slums, soon residents from Korail slum, Shat Tola, railway colony slum and many more places started coming here to get their groceries.
Aklima Begum, a homemaker, said she has been shopping there for the past two years. The 27-year-old lives in a rented house in the nearby Nakhalpara Samity Bazar with her husband. He earns around Tk 11,000 per month, of which Tk 5,000 goes to rent.
“This is a very affordable option for many of us,” she said.
Interestingly, not all shoppers here are insolvent. Some people also come here for the bargains on offer. With a good eye for vegetables or fruits, one can indeed buy a perfectly fine watermelon with minor bruises from a fall perhaps.
However, the market may be entering its final days. With frequent evictions, sales have already fallen. Plus, the market itself is on railway land and may soon be demolished.
“It will be removed,” Yeasin Faruk, OC of Dhaka Railway Police Station, confirmed saying it had been illegally built and was allowed to stand for such a long time due to people’s needs.
Perhaps soon, Fokinni Bazar will be gone. Its demise will deal a hard blow to the thousands who had depended on it for years.
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