The first port of call for us, in India, was Mangalore. It is one of five cities in India served by air, sea, rail, and road. The earliest European settlers found the area good for growing cashew nuts. And so cashews have been a cash crop in the area since for centuries.
As it is one of major industries in the region, many of us, took this excursion as an arranged activity. (The organisers missed out the part of cashew growing and we went to one of many hundreds of places where the nut is processed.)
Apparently the fruit, similar to an apple is bitter. Too bitter to do anything but ferment and make into an alcohol. The apple like fruit has an appendage hanging where the kernel is formed outside the flesh. This is lopped off in an on farm exercise. This is this a hard nut at the base of the fruit. We first saw thousands of them lying on concrete pads drying in the sun. Each one black, hard, bent like the nose of Punch. (Punch, as in the children’s puppet pantomime Punch and Judy.)
These noses lay in the sun all day and dried. Next, in a shed, built for function and not comfort, women on a daily rate equivalent to about $1.30 took a nut and cracked it open. The machine used was invented when man first discovered iron. Or almost at that time. The woman took the hard nose like kernel and with two fingers held it between iron jaws that were closed by a foot operated guillotine. It closed and broke the nut. Before she flung into a basked, the next was manipulated into place and cracked. Such was her life except for three months in the rainy season, later in the year. Her young children slept in cots or played in the attached nursery crèche all day while she worked.
That day the broken kernel with the nut attached was boiled in water for 6 hours. After that it spent two days cooling in heap on the floor. The women were in the most uncomfortable of atmospheres. It was only 33 degrees in Mangalore yesterday but the humidity was in the 90’s. Even our guide said it was unusually hot for this time of year and the apparent temperature, that which we feel, was equivalent to heat in the late 40’s
I must break into the story and relate a tale of my own life. As we were standing in the factory beside a wood fired boiler listening to the cashew story I was aware of being uncomfortably hot. The last time I was so hot I was a teenager. John Reed had not long married my aunt Pauline. As well as being newly married he was recently certified as an A grade mechanic. The work of a mechanic was more valued then than now as cars were very unreliable and a good mechanic was treasured as a man (It was almost only ever a man) who could get things going.
A few doors from the garage John worked for, and later owned, was a baker. His reasonably new mechanically operated oven had developed a problem and he had called on John to fix it. John had said it must be switched off and allowed to cool before he could think of repairing it.
The very next day I arrived for a holiday and was sent to the garage to spend some time with him. (I have never fixed broken machinery except to repair a broken bike chain. Before that broken chain I could never work out how the riveted chain was threaded through the rear bike frame. With the break I discovered that on one link, and only on one side of the chain, a split pin was inserted to join the final link to form the chain.)
John hadn’t asked my advice, but he said I might be of help to him if I would lie on an oven bread tray as the thing moved and have a look inside the oven. I was to look for an obvious fault while he stepped the bread chain slowly round its course. The oven had been turned off for hours so no one thought to check what the actual temperatures inside might be. The oven chain would only move one way, forward into the inferno. Riding on the carriage, only meant for bread, it hadn’t moved far when the heat took my breath away. The deeper into the oven I went the hotter it got. I could hear John’s muffled voice ask if I could see anything as I searched with an unreliable AA lead battery operated torch to see if there was an obvious fault before he started pulling the thing apart.
Fortunately for the baker, and for John, even with my limited knowledge I recognised a pin was missing. The oven did not need disassembling provided I cooperate. All that I was required to do could be solved if a new pin was found, it was, and I was sent around inside the oven once more to insert it in into its appropriate spot.
It was on my return journey, to do this work, I remembered, like today, just how unpleasant overheated air can be.
Mangalore has more. Firstly, I suggest next time you eat a cashew you give a thought to the woman who earned $1.30 per day so you could eat your nut without due thought to its real cost. Finally I suggest you find some pictures on line and save yourself from the blistering humid heat and smog. Oh, this comes from the coal and wood fires always burning, so there is more to learn than I could ever write. Best luck with your study.