Thursday, 24 July 2008


Climbing the coconut palm is a skill fraught with risks - but there is no other way of getting the coconuts down from the high palms soaring up to the skies. And we do need the special help of men who are experienced in this - unlike plucking strawberries. It is highly unlikely that aiming a couple of stones at nuts will bring them down, as one can with mangoes. There are men who do this for a living, charging you by the tree.

We have a couple of palms in our front garden (euphemism, because we don’t really have much there), and periodically one of these men come to pluck down the nuts. One of them was a Thamizh litterateur, and could quote Thamizh verses by the metre, many of them his own. All he wanted was to give his daughter a good education. Another one just wanted to make money for his daily drink – if he had enough for the day, he was not going to climb anymore. This time a person called Ezhumalai, who was skilful,quick and also arrogant, came. He well knew his worth, as men climbing coconut palms are hard to come by. I read last year that Kerala, where there is a profusion of coconut palms, had an acute shortage of climbers, and the government was going to train men to climb the palms.Ezhumalai however learnt his trade from his grandfather, he said, near Thiruvannamalai, where he grew up. He has been in the city for the last 20 years, climbing palms and earning a living.

It is quite dangerous – a slip from the heights can even be fatal. We see these men wearing two strong rounded belts, one round their feet, and the other binding them to the trunk of the palm. Holding on to the trees with their calloused palms, they shin up the tree, their feet held together within the confines of the belt, firmly gripping the trunk. They go up and fling down the coconuts ready for plucking,
leaving the more tender ones for the next harvest. They also use their
curved aruval to clean up the dried and drying fronds. And in a matter of minutes, they are done, and slide down the palm.

The palm trees are said to be benevolent, and never shed either frond or fruit if someone is in the vicinity for fear of hurting them. And a nut falling on one’s head from that height can be, as one can imagine,quite dangerous. Each and every part of the palm has some use or the other. Apart from the edible parts of the nut, the husk is made into coir, a thick strong rope. The leaves are used for thatching and the dried stems bunched together end up as brooms. The trunks, I understand are used to make bridges, valued for their straightness.

Ezhumalai caught me taking his pictures, and telling me to save him a copy walked off, his work done.
* With apologies to Led Zeppelin


kallu said...

Nice post Raji. People we seldom think about or value.

Pradeep said...

A dying art? There was a talk of a school to teach this.... Meanwhile, I am off blogging for a while as I am travelling and a bit busy with work.

Viji said...

We used to play cricket in the compound of Lakshmi Nivas and all the gear was courtesy the coconut trees growing there -
Raji, awesome pictures . How come it took so long for you to get behind a camera??
And oh one more thing - these picturs remind me of Babuji's version of an old time hit that went Pand uru naari , thenginnil keri...
: )

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

really nice. u've talked something most poeple foget...a unique post!! keep em going!!

Kat said...

Interstingly titled and well written. Thanks Raji for sharing...

You had mentioned that one amongst them wanted to "..give his daughter good education." Is he able to do that? Would you know which std she's studying and whether doing well?

Karthik Narayan said...

nice one... :)

Sunita said...

Raji, I found my way here via Abraham Tharakan's blog.
You know, its only after I moved to Mumbai that I discovered that there are alternate ways to something as common place as plucking coconuts. After being used to seeing the local coconut pluckers in Kerala throw down the nuts, it was a surprise for me to see the man in Mumbai climb up the tree with a big coil of rope. He ties this to the bunch of coconuts and lowers the cut bunch gently with the help of his assistant waiting on the ground.There are no smashed coconuts and no fear of the nuts bonking someone on the head. Most importantly, I dont have to worry about the harvested nuts guillotining my precious garden plants.

Maddy said...

how coconut trees & climbers came to India from sree lanka is still see the 'thandans' in north Malabar..i read somewhere that a mechanized climber was developed..

Sunita said...

Raji, I've mailed you.


Kallu, Lakshmi, Maddy, Karthik, Viji, thanks.

Pradeep - hope your break from blogging is not for too long. Maybe the school you mention is the same one that I have mentioned?

Sorry Kat, that person disappeared, but we know his daughter passed Std. X.

Sunita, - this is interesting that they don't fling the coconuts down in Bombay, like they do here.