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.
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.
Kevin Cook, a highly gifted photographer who is working on his master’s degree at MU, won first and second places in Interpretive Project and Feature categories at College Photographer of the Year (CPOY) competition this year. Here are the links to his winning work: North Philly & Gage and his gun. Also, check out his ongoing photo essay on Philadelphia rappers: Hip hop dreams
Last but not least, here’s the link to his book on the college party scene: Party