I travelled to Kerala at the peak of summer earlier this year; my second time in as many years. Although this time not only was I travelling alone but had a 50-pound backpack, replete with all my photo gear, strapped on my rather bony shoulders for a photo assignment on cashew nuts. Self-doubt ran riot in my mind the entire duration of my 12-hour train ride. I could barely sleep.
The first day of shoot was probably the most overwhelming of this fun yet demanding three-day shoot, for I (along with three wonderful WSJ staffers from the New Delhi bureau) was thrust in a cashew processing factory the likes of which I hadn’t seen ever before. There was so much going on yet there was a method to this madness. And that’s precisely what I tried to explore the remainder of this (productive) assignment with my trusty D90.
Abdul Kalam Azad, a 22-year-old worker from Siliguri, West Bengal at his shelling station. Azad has been working in this line of work for 7 years and earns about 17,000 rupees (approx. $260) every month. He extracts about 25 kg (55 lb) of cashew kernels from split cashew shells every day.
A Souparnika Export Enterprises factory worker carries peeled cashew kernels for grading.
Cashew kernels fall from the conveyor belt into a receptacle for dispatch.
A worker managing the furnace where the roasting of raw cashew nuts take place. The nuts are roasted for about half an hour and then cooled for around 12-15 hours. They are shelled following the cooling process.
A heap of roasted cashew nuts at a shelling station.
One half of the slimy cashew shell encasing the dry, crumbly kernel inside, falls down onto the workbench after undergoing the shelling process.
A worker at a shelling station shows the (non-permanent) damage endured due to shelling and extraction of cashews.
Workers studiously engaged in peeling testae (red skin) off cashew kernels.
Workers responsible for peeling queue up to receive dehydrated cashew kernels. The drying process typically takes nine hours and is executed with the help of a Borma dryer machine at an average temperature of 80-85° Celsius.