The Many Faces of Work: Applam (papad) makers in Chennai

Over the years, north and south Chennai have drifted apart socioeconomically, with low-income workers and their homes in the north, and almost all richer neighborhoods in the south. Most of my work since I returned to India last year has had to do with low-income workers in Chennai.  These are photographs from an applam making unit in Otteri, a neighborhood in north Chennai. Applams, also called papads or popadoms depending on what part of India or the world you are in, are deep fried and eaten with a meal. While there are well-known brands in Tamil Nadu that export applam all over the world, including Radha, Popular, Ambika, and others, none of these brands actually own their own applam factories. They simply subcontract applam making to small-scale units like the ones in the photographs below. Men and women from the surrounding neighborhood work for a contractor who rents out a large space, and usually works along side his workers. Workers in the applam industry are now paid what are called “coolie” wages — they are paid for what they produce, rather than a regular weekly or monthly wage as they once were. Workspaces usually do not have provisions for drinking water or toilets. Note the child care facilities in the last photo.

Applam Unit Long ViewRolling mini applamsStacking applamsChild care at the unit

  1. debbie said:

    Nithya this is great and these pics are amazing.

  2. abdulsalam said:

    iam making this pappad

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