Before rice gets processed, it must be dried. And while machines reign in today’s mills, one village in Bengal still does the job by hand
Text Linda Lee
Photos Avishek Das (EFIAP, GPU Crown 2, SSS/b)
Photographer Avishek Das shares with ASIAN Geographic his experiences in capturing the rarely-seen process of hand-drying rice grains in Bengal. Das’ works have been featured in international publications such as National Geographic, Who’s Who in Photography 2016 and Asian Photography. He has won a total of 375 photography awards.
Q: Why rice drying in particular as a subject?
AD: I wanted to highlight how manual agriculture processes are still taking place in west Bengal, which produces almost 70% of the world’s exported rice. Drying reduces grain moisture to level suitable for storage. When rice is harvested, it consists of 20 to 30% moisture, which encourages the development of mold, and attack from pests, so people must dry it before it can be processed. The main thing that caught my attention was the dynamic lines and patterns created as the workers went about their job doing this.
Q: How did you take these photos?
AD: I first located the villages where rice is dried. It took almost 2 years interacting with different rice wholesalers and sellers to get information. Then I visited the village several times to speak to the mill owners to get permission to shoot.
For these pictures, I mostly chose a high angle (actually the roof of a shed) where the lines and patterns would appear clearly. To catch the workers in action in the steamy environment, I had to be up there by 4am, which is when they start working. They work for eight hours a day, and their children play in the fields in the afternoon when the grains are left out to dry in the open air.
Q: Tell us more about this rarely-seen process you documented.
AD: This is a manual process, so the workers first wash the grains with hot steam inside a rice processing unit to reduce the moisture. Then they place them on mats, nets, or canvas for drying, which takes two days or so. They use a comb and their legs to roll them out. The villagers believe that the grains will dry well this way, and it will enhance the color of the rice. Last, they’re sent to the rice mill for processing.
For more of Das’s work, check out his website here.