By Sadia Noor Joya
Dressed well in a clean shirt, pants, and polished shoes, Mr. Julhas Howladar sets up with his earphones, a wristwatch, and a pen in his chest pocket. He calls himself “smart,” which in Bangladesh refers to a refined appearance. Mr. Howladar isn’t in an office, but on the street, setting up his jhalmuri stand.
As popular a street food as jhalmuri is (Remember the taste of crunchy, spiced jhalmuri with a dash of lime juice and chopped green chilies?), the job of a jhalmuriwala is still considered to be a low-income remedy. However, it’s better than not working at all, or simply begging. Mr. Howladar came to that conclusion and decided to become a jhalmuri vendor in order to support his family and himself.
He didn’t choose to beg. Instead, he lives with his chest filled with pride, in a rare case of breaking the shackles of the backwards mindset of society. Wanting to make a name for himself, Mr. Howladar dedicated his life to his business, working long hours with a framed image of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman beside him. Drawing inspiration from the Father of the Nation, he believed it would be a way to connect with his own father.
Life hasn’t been easy for our smart jhalmuriwala. He is originally from Shariatpur and in Dhaka, lives in a rental behind the Bashundhara City shopping mall. His father was a Freedom Fighter in the 1971 Liberation War, during which his paternal grandfather was murdered by war criminals Years after victory, his dad and elder brother were also murdered, by the descendants of the war criminals. With a life mired in tragedy and poverty, Mr. Howladar never received proper education, nutrition, or healthcare.
He came to Dhaka with unfulfilled desires and, even after establishing his jhalmuri business, surviving the unaffordable streets of Dhaka has come with many challenges. With his elder son having recently been diagnosed with an illness that has proved too costly to treat—and with the effects of COVID-19 on the city—he can no longer bear the huge responsibility of fending for himself and his family. So now, he’s left with only one option: returning to his village, where he hopes to continue selling jhalmuri.
Though this latest development in Mr. Howladar’s life appears to be a step backwards, it’s one more obstacle in a life that has involved a fair share of adversity, but even more perseverance.