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.
Born in Chennai, Pradeep Ramesh, 27, is a professional freestyle footballer who also happens to have broken two Guinness World Records in the past eight months. As a matter of fact, his second official Guinness World Records certificatearrived just last week – he broke the previous record for most football touches with the shin in a minute by achieving it 238 times in the allotted time. When he’s not busy shattering world records at whim (he is gearing up for his third Guinness Record attempt as you are reading this), Pradeep can either be seen teaching budding freestylers this evolving art/sport or mesmerising audiences all over India with his brand of kick-ass freestyling.
When were you happiest? I can’t pinpoint one particular instance but if I’ve given my best for the day, I’m really happy that particular day.
What is your greatest fear? Whenever I see a grey strand in my beard, I get scared.
Which living person do you most admire, and why? I admire both mymum and wife and for the same reason – I don’t think there is anybody in this world who works harder than a mother especially Indian mothers. They have so much work and yet maintain a positive attitude every single day. The house will be in shambles without them.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Let’s say I wake up feeling low tomorrow, I’d just shut myself off and end up doing nothing the whole day.
What was your most embarrassing moment? When I’m visiting my relatives or meeting someone new, explaining what I do for a living is downright embarrassing. This occurs at least once every week.
What is your most treasured possession? My wife.
What would your super power be? The ability toread others’ minds.
What makes you unhappy? If I’ve not given my all in an endeavour, then I get unhappy.
What is your most unappealing habit? I’m addicted to coffee.
What is your least favourite word? Extra cheese.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? When I was in sixth grade, I wanted to join the Army. I took the National Defence Academy (NDA) entrance exam in tenth but didn’t make the cut as I flunked the maths paper by 10 marks.
What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you? This one guy on social media commented – ‘Is this record official [referring to my first Guinness World Records attempt video I put up on my Youtube channel]?’ I didn’t respond. After a while, he’s like, ‘Show me your certificate.’ He was getting on my nerves so I blocked him but that didn’t stop him from going on an epic rant on FB dissing me and my claim of being a world record holder.
What is on top of your bucket list? Winning the World Freestyle FootballChampionship.
What is your guiltiest pleasure? Filter coffee.
What is the greatest love of your life? Football.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Ready, rolling.” (A phrase Pradeep often says when shooting videos for his vlog.)
What is the worst job you’ve done? A wedding gig in Agra where I had to freestyle in front of the bride and groom entourage as they were being led up to the dais.
If you could edit your past, what would you change? Nothing.
How do you relax? With a cup of coffee or just chilling at the beach.
What keeps you awake at night? Hopelessness.
How would you like to be remembered? As a motivational figure who proved that anything is possible.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you? Sometimes, hard work doesn’t pay dividends.
Tell us a secret. My wife snubbed me in high school when I proposed to her.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life? Money.
Right before Chennai sees in its earliest light, hawkers hasten to secure a spot at the aisles with their ragbag of wares of all shapes and sizes. Hauling in the day’s catch, droves of tricycles swerve across the packed arena, passing the baton to deft auctioneers who will put on a show with skilful yodelling.
Over at the only fishing harbour in the city, Kasimedu is bizarre and magnificent in equal measure. Anybody new to this place can instantly get overwhelmed by the dizzying load of sights and sounds, not to mention the unmistakable pungent smell of fish. Yet, the place is indefinitely plagued by an influx of customers who throng the fish market by the thousands. Equally many are the number of trawlers that dock at the wharf at any given time, serviced by hundreds of kattumarams that ply between the trawlers and the shore fetching fishes and crustaceans in plastic baskets.
Even during the recent deluge that literally sank most of the city, things carried on like clockwork here. And we can see why: A microcosm of India, really, Kasimedu is an ecosystem of sorts where various subsets of people mutually depend on one another. Be it the fishermen in the docked trawlers who pile the never-ending stream of baskets with fish to pass on to fellow fisherfolk who help in getting those baskets to the shore using rented kattumarams, the daily wage labourers who then work in tandem to deliver the commodities to the wholesale dealers, or the hawkers who complete the cycle by disposing of the items to seafood lovers, no group can function without the other.
This unassuming bond is what makes the harbour and its environs tick. It ticked my box too.
Here’s a visual ode to a place that I love as much as I hate the smell of it.
“The first time I ever saw a ferret I was at a summer school class, when I was 12, about different “critters” or something like that. Everyone else was excited about the rabbits or the fast hamsters, but I was fascinated by this slinky and sleepy animal in the cage … Gandalf was the first pet I ever had. Having him in my life has definitely changed it for the better. Whenever I am lonely or sad I have this warm living teddy bear to snuggle with.”
“I wanted to do something more – I wanted to learn more, I wanted to be more. I loved my time in the military but it’s not what I saw for my future.” Traci Payne came to Mizzou last Fall to pursue her bachelor’s in Journalism after serving for 12 years in the US Air Force. She wants to eventually work in Public Relations. Payne started doing yoga three years back after being introduced to this discipline by a friend. She now manages a Yoga studio in her hometown Fayette, Mo. She credits Yoga with helping her stay calm despite the pressures of college life.