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 someones orchards, I came upon a small cinder-block shed buzzing with activity. Inside were a group of young girls busy making 'papads.' These girls had a machine going, and were churning out hundreds of papads right before my eyes. WoW! Apparently one of the women had gotten a small loan, and started selling papads and other konkani foods to local businesses. I had read a lot about small loans given to women in rural india. Here I saw it in action!
There was one older 'maam' who was tending an industrial blender in the corner, making the papad atta. Then, in a smoothly running assembly line, small dough rolls were hand kneaded, flattened and fed in a powered roller, resulting in a long thin wafer of dough, which was placed on a strip of heavy duty plastic sheet. Other girls immediately attacked it with papad-cutters (sharp-edged round plates; see lady in blue saree has one in her hand) and trimmed the edges. Trimmings went back in the dough mixer! The plastic sheeting was hung out in the sun and after they had partially dried, the papads were gently removed and allowed to dry further on mats.
It was amazing to see the girls operate flawlessly. And the entire time, the girls were smiling and joking with each other (and giggling – surprised to see me showing an interest and taking pics). They offered me some of the papad dough for taste (this too is a delicacy). They make other konkani foods depending upon the demand and I ordered 300 papads. One of them brought the freshly made papads to our home in the evening. They were a fraction of what I would pay here in the US! It was not the price, as much as supporting these young women in their enterprise. They probably use the money to buy food, school supplies and support their family.
Notice how happy and content the girls look. Everyone seems enthused to be there working, earning some money in this bare cinder-block shed, with not a chair in site. Compare that with us and our own colleagues in office parks, pampered with air-conditioning, cafeterias, free munchies and perks. How very fortunate are we! Next time you buy a papad from Kumta, think of these hardworking girls!