Thursday, 24 July 2008
"STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN" *
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