Shuvashish* is 17 years old and lives with his parents. “My brother doesn’t live with us. He got married and moved out. This has led to many problems. How much will my father do alone? I live with my parents in the same room.
My days are both bad and good. What to do? Will it do if I keep being around bad things and become worse in the process? It won’t do. Friends or men can look at me and tell if I am sad, or if they are sad. They can tell by looking.
My days can get very bad. People get addicted to drugs. Some people do something even worse, which is different from addiction. There is something even worse. I can’t explain that in words. I tread on the right path but my companions have gone astray. They hang around with girls and get high. They’re young. My life is tough. It’s both good and bad, overall.
My father has a job. I work as well, but my income isn’t enough. Our household runs on my father’s income. I hand over my income to my mother. She does what she does with it. My father drives a vehicle that carries passengers. I don’t remember its name. He earns Tk.300.00, Tk.400.00, or Tk.500.00 per day, depending on the day. It’s not possible to drive daily. My father doesn’t own the vehicle. He rents it at Tk.800.00 per day. After paying Tk.800.00, he has Tk.300-500 in hand on some days, that too with great difficulty. After paying all expenses, Tk.150.00, Tk.200.00, or Tk.300.00 remains. Sometimes, there is nothing left and even the vehicle’s rent can’t be paid.
My father earns money and gives it to my mother who saves it and pays rent. Out of my income of Tk.5,000.00, I give her Tk.4,000.00 and keep Tk.1,000.00 for myself. Sometimes I don’t keep any money for myself when I see financial constraints at our household.
My mother used to work at a garment factory. My mother faced a great deal of hardship when we were growing up. She used to break bricks. My father used to sell ice-cream from a van in my childhood. Then he started driving the vehicle.
Two months ago, when the virus came about, they stalled paying my salary. They said they didn’t have money to pay our salaries and other nonsense. Then they paid me Tk.3,000.00 instead of my salary which is Tk.5,000.00. I told them that if I had worked elsewhere, I would’ve been paid in full and that they were doing something wrong. I requested them a lot, but they didn’t listen. Then they paid me Tk.3,000.00 for two months. I gave all my money into the household; I didn’t keep any of it.
We got by with great difficulty. Many households received rice and lentils, but we didn’t. Neither my father nor I had a job. We were in trouble. I heard that in many places, people didn’t have to pay rent for 3 months, but we had to pay rent monthly. Our landlord didn’t take Tk.1.00 less than the whole amount. He came here and did so many things. I heard that my mother borrowed some money from her brother during that time.
I am looking for another job as I can’t make do with this job anymore. The boys there told him that they couldn’t do with Tk.2,000.00. He said, ‘There’s nothing to do. We have to consider my situation as well as yours.’ I told him, ‘you won’t consider my situation. You will only consider yours.’ I accepted Tk.3,000.00 in the first month. I knew he would pay me Tk.3,000.00 in the following month as well. I accepted that as well. But the virus was rampant, there was not much work to be done. Work resumed a few days ago – one month after the lockdown ended.
If I quit, my supervisor would say, ‘why will you quit? You’ve been working here for many years since your childhood. You’re a grown-up now. Do as you wish.’ When I first joined this job, my salary was Tk.1,800.00. It increased over time to Tk.5,000.00. Do people work at the same place for five years? I will ask them this. Like I said… where the work isn’t tough, the salary will be low. I don’t need that. I will work hard and earn well. I understand everything but can’t talk about it. That’s why I have decided to quit and work elsewhere where the employer is good.
My employer will only stop me for his convenience. He pays me a low salary but makes me do a lot of work. He knows that but still makes me toil. I am a human being. I’ve been working with him since my childhood. If I leave now, won’t that be troublesome for him? Now my family tells me to quit my difficult job and work elsewhere. I refuse, telling them that I will have to go through pain my whole life, and I won’t be able to do anything in life if I stop learning out of fear of pain.
I gave up studying in class 7 and have been working for five years. My studies were good and I wanted to study further, but my family was having financial problems. So, I decided to start working. When I was 11 years old, I worked at a canteen for one month, and now I have been working with leather for five years.
I worked at a canteen first. My salary was Tk.2,500.00. I used to deliver food. I worked from 7am to 5pm. Now, at work, I go at 7am or 8am or even 10am. I have to go when I am called by my employer. Our goods come from Hemayetpur and Tangail. I go when the goods arrive. I work almost 24 hours. I unload goods from a lot, then load goods. Then I carry over my head the goods I had unloaded and take them to the rooftop for drying. When those get dry, I carry those over my head again and bring them down. Then I count the number of items and hand them over to the owners of the goods. They take their goods and, if they return at night, I work at night. If they return in the morning, I work in the morning, sometimes until three or four in the morning. We work all night, then we work during the day as well.
Operating drums is restricted at nights. It is allowed in Hemayetpur. So, we operate drums secretly at night. We work because we need money. At night I pour oil. Then I do milling, which takes two hours, at which point I sit down and do this and that or sweep the floors. Then I am sent to fetch tea and cigarettes. Then I take down the milling. Then I wipe that, unload goods and keep them at a side. Then I fill up a trunk with water. Then I soak the goods in the trunk and pour dye into it. Then the goods spin for two to three hours, after which I take those to the rooftop at 7am and spread them over the floor.
I didn’t listen to anyone when I worked. I used to wake up in the morning and play cricket with my friends. I am good at it. I played, then came back. I played all day long on Fridays. I stayed out all day. Apart from that, I’ve lost many things – my school life and many other things. When I think about it alone, I realise that I’ve lost many things. I only have one sadness – that I started working so young. The work that I’ve been doing for the last five years is tough. But I have to work as I was born into a poor family. There’s nothing to do.
I took my own decision. My parents told me, ‘you don’t need to do any job, you don’t need to do any work. You can continue your studies. They told me that they would take care of everything and that I didn’t have to work. My family tried not to put any household burden on me. But there was this daily chaos around debts and installments. Chaos and mayhem were here and there. I felt bad. Even if I could earn only Tk.2,000.00, and I contribute Tk.2,000.00 to my family then that would’ve helped my parents.
My family was thinking about my future, which I was unable to foresee. I was thinking about my parents’ problems. I wish I could tell my parents that they don’t need to work, that only I will earn and that’ll be enough. But I don’t have that kind of income yet. I will definitely tell them this when I start earning that kind of income.
We were very poor. We had debts of around Tk.20,000.00-30,000.00. My parents have always taken great care of me. Now I am taking care of them. Once upon a time, they gave birth to me. They didn’t get rid of me as I’m their son. No matter what, I am their son! I feel pain when I see them. If I see that they are suffering in front of me then obviously I won’t be able to tolerate their pain. My friends are not allowed by their parents to work. We work, that’s it. But I feel pain when I see my parents are in pain.
So, I decided to stand on my own feet anyhow. I went out to look for work and got it the very next day. I went somewhere and told an older Bhai [a kinship term to mean someone like a brother] that I was looking for a job. He told me to go home, and that he would look into it.
I didn’t go home. I went to the leather product place. I asked a Bhai for a job. He asked me what I could do. I was young and didn’t know what to respond to. Then another Bhai came and asked me if I could carry a few pieces of leather over my head. I said, ‘Why not! Is there anything I can’t do? There’s no such work.’ I carried the piece of leather, and then they were convinced and said I could work there. I have been there ever since.
Right now, we owe people money, and they gather at our place. We have also borrowed money from the people around us. Around 5-6 people have to be repaid. We borrowed money for my brother’s kidney treatment. The installment was also taken because of that. I think we needed Tk.3-4 lac for that. I heard that my brother’s operation cost that. Our house and all our property at our village was sold off due to this.
I heard that they did other things after the operation. I don’t know what they did – the doctor knows that. Now my brother is fine and he lives with his wife. He moved out a couple of months ago. He’s been married for five years. He hated my father, so my father asked him to move out. They don’t contribute any money to our household anymore. He drives a van and sells biscuits. He earns Tk.12,000.00 per month but can’t contribute to our household because he needs the money for his wife and child.
When our rent is due our landlord yells terrible things at us. Isn’t that bad? What will people say? Our rent is around Tk.3,500.00 or Tk.3,900.00. I can’t tell for sure. I don’t know about money or other matters related to our household. I only go to work, and sleep when I come back.
I will survive in the future by working. I will learn something by working. I’ll try to do something with what I learn. My future will stand on the work I am learning now. There are many benefits – besides financial benefits – of learning leather work. If I learn the job properly, I will earn Tk.10,000.00-20,000.00 per month. My employer is cheating me now. If I had more work experience or if I were working at a big company, I could earn more. Right now, I am working for X company. It’s a small company, so it doesn’t want to pay.
Those who are older than me are paid Tk.15,000.00/Tk.18,000.00/Tk.25,000.00 or a maximum of Tk.35,000.00. I am the youngest one. That’s why I am paid less. They think that it’s okay to pay me less because I am younger than the others. They don’t understand.
My home village is Barishal. My uncle used to live here. My parents weren’t earning much, so they came to Dhaka. I was born in Dhaka. I’ve never lived at our village. I visit there sometimes. Right now, my parents are facing financial problems.
My father got into trouble with his property at our village. He had a fight with his elder brother, who asked, ‘Where is the sickle?’ Then the police caught him, and he spent three months in jail at Chawk Bazar. There was a separate expense for food at that place. The food wasn’t good there. The breads were thick. My father couldn’t eat those. It was tough.
That’s why we had to hire a lawyer, and we also had to send money to my father weekly. There was a Bkash agent there. And we had to pay rent for a bed as well. The washroom was at the same place where he stayed. Could he stay there? Didn’t the place smell? That’s why we rented the bed, which cost Tk.2,000.00-2,500.00 per week.
Since my father wasn’t home, we were in deep trouble. We needed money to get him out of jail. Getting food was difficult. I feel pain when I think about those times. We wanted to arrange money for my father even if that meant not having meals for ourselves. We thought that if we could get my father out of jail, we would be able to live well again.
We couldn’t pay rent for four months. When my father got out of jail, we borrowed money from somewhere and paid off our rent but our debts have to be repaid now.
We managed somehow. My cousin, my sister, and husband all chipped in and in total, we had Tk.22,000.00-24,000.00. I thought of getting more money by borrowing. We spent TK.75,000.00. When my father was taken to the High Court, he was barefoot. I felt pain when I saw that, so I bought him shoes.
So between the kidney operation and getting my father out of jail currently, four to five people have to be repaid, and we pay installments. We get installments from a co-operative. The problem is that weekly payment have to be made, but two to three months, our installment payments will be over.
I used to go to school, study and play. I had a lot of fun. There were girls in school. We used to treat each other like brothers and sisters. I had fun with friends. I attended classes properly. I was scolded by the teachers – teachers used to hit boys more. One teacher used to hit students with two canes at once.
When my education stopped I felt very bad. I wanted to go; I tried very hard. Then I didn’t go, considering that I had quit studying for good.
My father also has heart problems, but the doctor gave him medicines and my mother has health issues from having betel leaves – but the doctor didn’t give her anything for that.
My dream was to study, grow up and do something good or big, like joining an airline. But how will my dream be fulfilled? I don’t study, I work. If I had studied, I could have had faith. But now, since I am working with leather, if I learn something related to this then I can do something in life. That’s my idea.”
*All names have been changed