“Apa, do you want fresh hilsha? These are from Padma,” said the elderly seller pointing to a pile of the silvery fish. On receiving a negative shake of the head, he moved off to the next customer.
It was around 7 in the morning when the city was still slumbering. It could hardly be sensed that just a few metres away a chaotic, hectic market was in full swing. At the heart of the capital, the boisterous fish market does brisk business every morning along the Panthapath Tejgaon Link Road, a few metres from the Pan Pacific Hotel Sonargaon. The retailers buy the fish from the Karwan Bazar wholesale fish market on the other side of the road and then sell these here.
A middle-aged retailer, broadly smiling at the camera, said “Please don’t publish my photos or I'll be in trouble.” He had reasons as the market is spread out along the footpath. Amid the sharp odour, office goers made their way making a face. A man kicked up a row as his pants got dirty with the blood splattered from a sliced fish, but the man responsible was too busy to answer with a pile to finish.
Depending on the nearby wholesale market, this has emerged as a miniature of the original. Supporting businesses to provide water and fish tanks, ice, breaking ice and slicing fish, removing fish scales and water delivery have grown too. A number of people including women are involved in such tasks.
As of the last week of August, hilsha was sold at Tk 1,000 per kg, shrimps at Tk 500 per kg and carp at Tk 350 per kg. There’s always a bustling atmosphere when customers and sellers quibble around the price. Sometimes the market reaches the main road too when there’s no space on the footpath.
Motaher Hossain who was busy slicing fish speedily and deftly said he used to do the job for three years. “We have to be fast and careful. At first it took time and I cut my fingers several times but now I’m good at it,” he said. He was talking while he didn’t stop cutting the fish with a big blade.
Talebur Chowdhury, a man in his 60s, came up with his car and was busy haggling over hilsha. "I come here often. The colour of the fish is clearer in the sunlight and the price is reasonable too," he said. "I come here because I love fresh fish."
An indigenous woman who was smoking while carrying water for fish tanks hid her cigarette as soon as she saw the camera. She said she didn’t want to be named. There was no time to talk in their busy world.
They start work early in the morning and by around 10:00am all the hustle and bustle disappears as if by a spell. Only the smell hovering around could testify to a stranger that something had been going on there just a few hours ago.