Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Coconut Picker

The view from the window of my bedroom in our second floor apartment is that of crisscrossing bristles of the green leaves of a coconut tree. Trying to thwart the habit of an afternoon siesta, which is unbecoming of a twenty three year old like me, I lay on my bed beside the window this past Sunday afternoon enjoying the view of squirrels scurrying among the yellow green coconuts which looked ripe enough to be picked very soon. It had rained the previous night and the green leaves looked bright and a couple of the dried brown ones hugging the trunk of the tree also glistened in the afternoon sun. Just as I was wondering about the need to pick the ripe coconuts and pull down the dried leaves lest they should come crashing down in the next rain, I saw a pair of thin, sun burnt brown arms of an old man who picked the coconuts, climbing the gray trunk of the tree.

I sat up, amazed at this coincidence and observed as the old man climbed up to within reach of the coconuts with the ease and confidence of a skilled person. His legs were wrapped around the trunk of the tree, a small piece of jute rope looped across his ankles and one of his hands holding a small curved machete. He was a lean man in his late fifties but his arms and legs did not show signs of age. He wore a turban over his squat face and the white bristles of his unshaven beard were in contrast with the brown of his wrinkled skin. The skin over his gaunt face was pulled taut with concentration as he clung on to the tree at the precarious height with just his legs and used both his arms to cut the dead leaves of the tree.

He was one of the regulars who plied the street selling tender coconut and had been for many years now, the person who picked the coconuts when they were ripe. Nobody had to inform him when to come and just as the thought of trimming the trees popped up in the minds of the housewives and grandmothers of the houses on the street, he would be there the next day offering to do the job. He was a quite man, someone who probably knew when the coconut trees on this street were ready to be pruned and turned up without fail at the right time. It was probably the recognition of his skill that there was a tacit understanding between him and the matrons of the houses and there was never any haggling between them unlike the few other younger men who turned up at infrequent intervals and demanded exorbitant charges.

I sat watching him using his machete to cut the coconuts off the tree and seeing them fall down some thirty feet with a thud and rolling off to all corners of the garden below. There was a simple beauty in the way he executed this, holding the coconut he was cutting in his left hand and using the machete in his right hand to dislodge it from the tree with just one slash. He then let it go from the height where it always landed on the mud below before it bounced off with tremendous force towards the pots, but never managed to break them. This reminded me of a fable which my mother had told me about a traveler who rested below a large banyan tree on his road and wondered why God had blessed such a vast tree with tiny cheery sized fruit and a small shrub with a big fruit like a pumpkin. The beauty of nature dawns on him when he is awoken by the small fruit popping over his head and realizes that he is lucky that it was not a large pumpkin that fell on his head instead.

I had always wondered whether the coconut tree had been an anomaly to this wonderful order in nature and why such a hard shelled fruit hung so high above our heads. But as I saw this skilled man at the top of the tree ripping the coconuts from the tree with a calm casual brilliance, I realized that there was a superior order of nature - the competence of man’s mind which has the cognizance to discern good from bad and in the process of ensuring its welfare also finds the nectar hidden in the giddy heights it has scaled. After all, isn’t it this ability to appreciate good things that inspired a Kannada poet to ask his fellow men

… Thindidiya khobri bella?”

(Have you had the pleasure of eating the mixture of coconut and jaggery?)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice well written story. Thanks.

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