At its best the humble village teashop is an institution. From morning until late night, it's where villagers gather to share news, discuss business, mediate disputes and socialise. A teashop proprietor like Atabur Rahman, who has run his shop in Kalingar village in Chapainawabganj Sadar upazila for the last 35 years, inevitably occupies a distinct position at the centre of a locality's social fabric. For Atabur it's quite an achievement since he has no use of his legs.
“When I started, a cup of tea sold for just fifty paisa,” says 60-year-old Atabur. “Now the rate is Tk 4. It hasn't been easy to run this business but I never wanted to be a burden.”
Born into a financially impoverished family, Atabur became paralysed at the age of two after contracting polio. He walks on his hands. “I was a victim of childhood misfortune,” he says. “Polio weakened my muscles, but as I grew up I found new inner strength. I was determined to face any challenge. Many people in my circumstances beg. Even some physically fit people beg. But I hate begging. I have always sought self-reliance.”
Atabur is grateful to his family, friends and neighbour who encouraged him to open his teashop and believed in his plan for financial independence. “It took time but finally I did that,” he says.
The teashop is Atabur's only income source and he earns in the vicinity of Tk 300 per day. It's not much from which to support a family. But Atabur is deservedly pleased that he's able to maintain the living expenditures of his family at all.
“I knew he was physically challenged when we married,” says his wife Sabera Khatun, who helps him get to work each morning. “He's a good man who works hard. I have no regrets.”
The couple have two children: a daughter Nasrin Khatun, 20, who is married, and a son Mohammad Milon, 17, who studies in class ten at the local high school. They live in a small household of one-and-a-half kathas of land, to which the teashop is attached.
Atabur's initiative goes beyond coping with being physically-challenged. When he first opened his teashop soon after marriage, there were no other shops in the area. Many have followed his lead. Now there are over 100 neighbouring shops, including many other teashops.
“We are all proud of Atabur,” says neighbour and regular customer Mohammad Kabir. “Many young people beg but Atabur never has.”
“Atabur is an industrious man,” says another customer Hazrat Ali. “I respect him for his hard work.”
The chairman of the local Sundarpur union parishad, Habibur Rahman, says Atabur is one who sets an example to everyone in the area.
“My dream is that my son can continue his studies,” says Atabur, “but more than that I want him to be a good person.”