Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Weddings, Integration and Cashews


With a country that is predominantly Hindu, but home to a sizable Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain minorities, I am fascinated to know whether integration is valued and whether it happens. As an outside visitor one can only get a sense from reportage, anecdotes and inquiring of locals. India certainly wants to give the impression that it all works with Temples, Mosques and Churches predominating in every city, town and village, with the Muezzin's call to Islamic prayer heard over the loudspeaker five times a day in addition to Hindu chants blasting. And yet one wonders especially after learning that Prime Minister Modi represents an openly Hindu-first party, where he stands accused of leading anti-Muslim riots that left hundreds dead when serving in another capacity.

And yet...yesterday morning on our way to breakfast we saw a gorgeous bride in her gown being photographed prior to her church wedding later that morning. (The reception and party later that day took place at our hotel 'til late at night.) Attending the bride that morning was her best friend wearing a chador clearly marking her as an observant Muslim. We learned that they had met in high school and remained close for the intervening ten years. As we spied on the proceedings, we noticed one man straight out of Saudi central casting, dressed in white robes and kaffieh. Inquiring discretely we learned that he was standing in for the groom's Christian parents who were living in Dubai.

Our guide said that Hindu-Christian marriages were quite common in recent years, but Muslim intermarriages less so. These cross-cultural marriages undoubtedly were a result of increasing romantic, rather than arranged marriages, where Hindus rarely married out of their caste, much less out of their faith community.

Cashews

The splendid resort at which we spent two nights has also some relationship with a local cashew factory here in Kollam. We received special permission to visit only to discover an enormous operation ...sufficiently enormous to produce 27,000 kilos, i.e. 60,000 pounds of cashews daily. The factory we visited was one of three and they alone employed 700 people. The cashews are grown in India and shipped from all over the African and Asian continents. They are then shipped world-wide. Odds are that if you eat a cashew today, it was processed here.

The huge sacks are emptied into a roaster where they turn black. Then they are cracked open either in a two "man" operation with the first man who could lose a finger or two placing them one at a time in a cracker and the second flicking the cashew out of the shell OR they are individually sledged open by women sitting on the floor. Then the nut is re-roasted to loosen the fiber coating.

In the next three halls sit hundreds of women for 8-10 hours a day scratching off the fiber and sorting the cashews into various quality bowls.. This back breaking work was simply unimaginable...a scene from an earlier century. We were informed that this processing costs about $1/pound, which translates into meager income from this largely female crew. What an eye opening experience.I suspect the management expected us to leave very impressed. We walked away with something else.

I couldn't help but think about Donald Trimp's promise to bring back lost employment. These jobs you couldn't pay Americans enough to do. And when this process is mechanized most of these workers will be unemployed. And so it is with the steel and coal industries. Some have moved overseas, but most thanks to improved technology simply no longer exist.

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