Sherpa Hossainy's Blog

Making living out of nothing at all

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Dhaka, Industries, Interviews by Sherpa Hossainy on February 5, 2011

Published in The Daily Star’s Business section (in the special page — Business Life) on 31st January 2011

Read the article on The Daily Star website

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MD Shahjahan, 50, a father of three, has been in the metal handicrafts business for 27 years. It was 1983 when he came to Dhaka from Noakhali to try and make a living.

“I saw some people selling scrap products to the shops here and I got interested. I thought why not give it a shot,” says Shahjahan. He started doing the work of a broker in partnership with his friend who also owns a shop now in the Gulshan 2 DCC market.

Once upon a time, the scrap selling business was not that well known. Very few people were involved. “I used to sell products at shops in Gulshan and even to individuals. Then I started to run the business from this shop, Hossain Handicrafts. It was 1990.”

“One can’t climb a palm tree with a leap. You have to climb slowly, and I did,” Shahjahan says, explaining his success in business in the past. But those days are long gone now, he adds.

“Almost all the shops you see around here are incurring losses. There are no products, no customers. Some shops can’t even sell a single item in 5 to 7 days. Although, if new ships come in, sales picks up as lots of buyers come and get them,” he says.

“But that seldom happens. Look around my shop, I can show you products which are here unsold for 10 years or even 15 years.”

Replicas of deities are displayed at a shop in Dhaka.

According to Shahjahan, sales in a month can sometimes go up to Tk 300,000 while at other times, can drop to Tk 150,000. “Now a days, we sell for the sake of selling, with very little margin,” he says.

“Its tough to live by this trade and feed my family with the income from this business. But I have to keep on doing it because I am used to it. I have brothers who live abroad and send me some money. So I get by.”

Shahjahan blames a price hike of metals, and low demands due to customers’ unwillingness to buy metal products for the slump in sales and profit margins.

He wants more ships to come into the country so that the industry gets the fancy products, like watches, chests and compasses, and scrap metals.

“If ships come in, we will survive, the re-rolling mills will survive. If there are harmful substances, steps should be taken and technologies bought in, so that the ships can be broken safely. If the government provides opportunities, it is possible.”

He says many labourers are becoming unemployed as construction works are being hampered due to the increasing prices of rods, for a low supply of scraps. “If you go to the Notunbazar labour market, you’ll see thousands of labours unemployed even at 12 pm.”

“The re-rolling mills are shutting down and people are getting unemployed. If people don’t get food in their stomach they will do anything, so the crime rate will also go up.”

Shajahan pondered, “If someone is working, his mind is occupied but an idle brain is devil’s workshop. If I’m not addicted to work, I will be addicted to something else.”

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Myth buster: antiques or handicrafts?

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Dhaka, Industries by Sherpa Hossainy on February 1, 2011

Published in The Daily Star’s Business section (in the special page — Business Life) on 31st January 2011

Read the article on The Daily Star website

Digital print edition

If you ask someone in Dhaka the whereabouts of an antique shop, they might give you the address of Gulshan 2 DCC market, which has many shops displaying marvellously crafted metal products, some are old and some are new.

Are they truly antiques? What qualifies a thing to be termed as “antique”?

According to Wikipedia: antiques are, “an item which is at least 100 years old and is collected or desirable due to rarity, condition, utility, or some other unique feature.” Another general rule of thumb is 75 years for most objects to become antiques.

Different exhibits are up for sale at a so-called marine antiques shop in Chittagong.

When asked, a shopkeeper said that he has no clue how the name “antique” was tagged with this market. “We don’t know anything about any shop or business related to antiques here. Some inexperienced and unprofessional people come here and assume some old items from the ships as antiques.”

A shop owner exclaimed, “They don’t even know what antique is for God’s sake! They come in and say, Oh great! That’s a beautiful antique.”

The replicas of deities that come from Dhamrai have been in the making since the British era. After making the product, some of the owners want them polished and others want it to look a bit rusty and old.

“If someone comes and says that’s an antique, why would I just go into any arguments? Whatever the customers say is right,” said another shop owner.

“What’s the point of doing any squabble? I want to sell the products, not to teach definitions — it is not my headache to know, by whatever name the customers call it. But, the idea of those products being called antiques, is completely wrong I have to say.”

The shop owners said, “If some telegraph wire or steering wheel from a ship is considered as antiques what can we do? We have nothing to say as we only want to sell the product.”

Answering to the question, what they think the market should be called, they said it’s pretty simple — metal handicrafts market or simply handicrafts market, although there are also fancy wooden items too, but very few in numbers.

So, one of these days, when you find your neighbour boasting about an amazing antique bought from Gulshan 2 market, rather than being jealous, you just might try to bust the myth.

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