Friday, May 15, 2009

Tools of the Sidewalk Traders

According to the dictionary, a tool is a device used to perform or facilitate manual or mechanical work. It is something necessary to the carrying out of one's occupation or profession.

Primeval tools such as fire, the spear and the wheel , enabled homo sapiens to raise himself to be ruler of his surroundings. Throughout history, tools often played a pivotal role in the making and breaking of civilizations.

As a software engineer, I too had to learn and respect the use of tools in my profession. Some tools were absolutely necessary to do my job; others saved time and improved product quality.

For most people the tools of software engineering remain invisible. However, when I returned to Bangladesh after many years abroad, I discovered a very visible set of tools on the sidewalks of Dhaka. Numerous street vendors employ this useful set of tools to earn a livelihood. If they are selling a product, the tools are used to prepare or enhance the product for selling. If they are selling a service, the tools are used to provide that service.

These tools range from mundane (tea-making) to unexpected (fortune-telling parrot); from simple (scale) to complex (making talismanic rings); from precise (shoeshining) to disorganized (stencils for making posters).

Our sidewalk tools are thus a testament to the creativity and resilience of our small business entrepreneurs.

A typewriter is handy for typing up legal documents.

Scales used to sell carrots.

Metals used to make nobogroho talismans from eight metals.

A cart used by vendors to carry and showcase products.

Tools needed to shine a pair of shoes.

Crushers are used for extracting sugarcane juice.

A rickshaw mechanic needs a whole hierarchy of tools.

A parrot tells the fortune by pulling an envelope with a message inside.

Stencils used to make fliers and posters.

A paanwallah has tools to mix paan spices and light the cigarettes.

A tailor's tools.

A teamaker's tools for serving up a refreshing cuppa.

(This series of my photos and the essay appeared in The Daily Star as a full-page "City in Frames" feature on Tuesday May 12, 2009.)


Monjoor said...

Great subject!
Nice pics

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