Pyāsā – Soda at Rāmnāthi

Photos of the Soda store owner at the Neeta Canteen by the Ramnathi Devasthan Goa by Arun Shanbhag

During Maha Shivratri, as I waited for a rickshaw outside the Ramnathi Devasthan, I shot pics of colorful soda bottles arrayed in crates. The hovering owner felt neglected and offers, “Maegel bhī photo kād” (take a pic of me too). I obliged. I loved the confident pose he struck in front of the red wall. You can imagine him in a previous avatār, curling his handlebar mustache and astride a horse. Quintessential Goa. For that, he gets the opening pic. Continue reading “Pyāsā – Soda at Rāmnāthi”

Girls making Papad 2

Picture of girls making papad in Kumta, India

A few years back while visiting Kumta I went back to the little shack where I had earlier seen young women making papad (writeup and pics). I was glad to see that this little cinderblock workshop was still active, and women came together to make papad and other eatables to sell in local stores. I like the light in this pic. Continue reading “Girls making Papad 2”

Peanut Farmers Toil

Peanut Farmer farms Northern Karnataka
During this season of plenty, we turn our hearts and minds to farmers who toil the land, and bring food to our tables. Their's is a difficult life!

Indian farmers would celebrate, simply breaking even. Many are frustrated by the cycle of debt and end their lives, leaving their families deeper in debt! According to Govt of India figures, more that 17,000 farmers committed suicide in 2003 alone, and the plague continues. Read NY Times article here. This is when India is celebrating stratospheric stock market valuations, rocketing real estate prices, aspiring for 'superpower' status and newly empowered youth are lining up for MacDonald's greasy fries and sloshing their brains in imported vodka! This is globalization, I guess! Continue reading “Peanut Farmers Toil”

Cashew Nuts: To Your Health

Factories play an important role in India's rural economy. They provide jobs for local men and women, which translates into money to buy food, send kids to school, buy medicines if needed, repair and maintain a house and save some money. Villages and towns in India (as elsewhere in the world) don't need an handout, they need a hand-up! People are willing to work hard, but they need jobs with good working conditions and a decent pay. And customers who are willing to pay a fair price for their products. On every visit to rural india my ears are alert for news of well run companies creating jobs for locals.

In the Konkan town of Kumta, I visited the Sahyadri Cashew Processing factory run by Mr Murlidhar Prabhu. He is a relative of a relative. I was particularly impressed that he hired a lot of women in his factory. Of the more than 250 people he employs, only 8 were men and more than 240 were women. WoW!

“But do they like working here,” I asked. “Most of our new workers are younger daughters, sisters, and relatives of those already working here,” he explained, implying that if the pay was not good, or work conditions onerous, workers would not be bringing other family members in to work. Within a few years of working the women are able to save a decent amount of money. They generally leave when they get married and move out of town. Their ability to earn a living also makes them more marriageable, to a better person and gives them the confidence to seek other jobs wherever they move.

We need more such social entrepreneurs in the villages and towns of India. No! We do not need more television sets, or dainty models selling shampoo, or fancy soaps. Certainly not coffee shops or liquor bars or 'menthol' cigarettes or posh grocery stores. So the next time you munch on the nuts, remember all the folks working in the factories in rural india and elsewhere whose job depends on your choices. Did I mention nuts are actually very good for you?

The hard, gray, raw cashew seeds, perched below the fruit are collected and dried. Seeds are first steamed and allowed to cool in large heaps on the factory floor. The quick heating and cooling causes the kernel to separate from the shell. Operating steam boilers and loading /unloading large bags of cashew seeds was the only tasks in this factory performed by men. Women handled all other jobs here.

After cooling, women on tables with rudimentary cutters expertly position each seed in a v-grip using the hand lever. Then a foot operated lever snips the outer shell longitudinally in half. Cut seeds tumble through a hopper to a basket on the floor.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag

… where another woman separates the whole nut kernel from the shell. The gray shell has corrosive agents and women rub oil on their hands to protect from the corrosive effects. The shells are sold off to companies which extract oils, which are apparently an important ingredient in marine paint used on ships and docks. May explain why most ships are painted gray?
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


Collected nuts are dried in an oven, making the skin brittle and easy to remove. While I suffer at this chore, the women fly through at a dizzying speed. They use a tiny knife to scrape and release the skin on the inner surface of the nut. Then the rest of the skin just falls off. Preliminary sorting of the nuts is also performed at this stage.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


On these tables the cashew nuts are sorted depending on their size, colour and if they are chipped. Halfs and pieces of nuts are also sorted by size. This grading determines the ultimate price of the cashew nuts.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


The sorting tables were in a large well-lit area.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


The cashew nuts undergo extensive quality control before packaging. Nuts are placed on a conveyor belt and inspected. Over a sieve, dust and other contaminants are sucked. Over a magnetic table, metallic contaminants are removed. Cashew nuts are then packaged in vacuum in large packs (greater than 10kg). Most of the cashew nuts from this factory are exported through bulk dealers. They do have their own private label that you saw above. Depending upon the needs of the customer, the factory also does some post processing such as roasting cashew nuts with spices.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


Note on photographs: All factory pics were shot in Sept 2004 using my Olympus C4040, 4MP point and shoot digital camera, confirming you don't need fancy cameras to take good pics. I do have a dSLR which I have been using more recently. The opening cashew fruit pic was from an indian cashew trade association website.

Goa Snippets

When in India last September, I made a short trip to visit our ancestral temple Ramnathi Devasthan near Ponda, Goa. The early morning flight reached Goa before 8:00. Enroute to the temple I saw this quintessential Goan field, and had the driver stop. It was a partly cloudy day and the overnight rains had soaked through.

And to the right, this!

And turning back on the road, this!

This tiny store is across from the Ramnathi Temple. Even as a kid, I remember this “Maama” (uncle in konkani) tending this store. Years ago, it was a tiny metal box about 4 feet across, now he has a much larger, sturdy laterite construction. I make a beeline for those bananas, still hanging on the ghadaay. You pluck which ever you want. Reminded me of my abbu's home in Bhatkal. Such ghadaay were always hanging in the veranda, and as we kids ran by, we'd pluck one and feed the skin to the cows. Such fun!

Here's a close crop. Pick one.

© 2005 Arun Shanbhag

Kumta: Girls Making Papad

girls making papad in rural Kumta
I look forward to visiting Kumta, our ancestral home along the konkan coast. Lush green fields, coconut tree groves, red mud roads where lazy cows have the right of way. A place where I can speak konkani all over town.

Strolling through someone’s orchards, I came upon a small cinder-block shed buzzing with activity. Inside were a group of young girls busy making papad (konkani: haapoL). The girls were churning out hundreds of papad right before my eyes. Apparently one of the women had gotten a small loan, and started selling papad and other konkani foods to local restaurants and grocery stores. Continue reading “Kumta: Girls Making Papad”

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