CannonFire and Coconuts: Dec. 15th
This morning I awoke to the sound and thuds of cannon fire. Since India has many cannons, hearing cannon fire did not surprise me, but feeling cannon fire is another story entirely. There have been incipient rumors of war with Pakistan recently; couple this with India’s technological advancement and you will understand my uneasy feeling. After a quick decency check, I ran out of the bedroom to find Jude, and Nagarajan guarding the dining room glass doors. About them were the remains of shattered pots, which until today held four-foot philodendrons. Strewn about the patio were our cannonballs — green, ripe coconuts being dropped a distance of sixty feet from our two coconut palms. Krishnamurthy, the coconut picker, had arrived.
We have been eagerly awaiting Krishnamurthy’s arrival eagerly since we arrived in India. For a fee of thirty rupees you hire a coconut picker to shinny his way up your palm trees, and to cut and drop the ripe coconuts. The coconut picker check out the palm tree, applies coal dust to infected areas, and generally cleans and prunes the tree. He then cuts each coconut and drops it. A green coconut, known as a tendernut, falls an incredible distance and isn’t even bruised. It ricochets when it hits the ground (eight ball through the side window), wreaking havoc on anything in its path. When all the tendernuts are collected, the picker pulls out a pick, grabs a green fruit, and smashes it on the business end of the pick. This splits the fruit into two halves, and extracts the seed, which is about the size of a small cantaloupe. It is what you and I think of as a Safeway coconut. A few whacks with a knife will remove the seed case, to reveal a beautiful white egg - an ostrich egg, mind you. This is the stuff of pina coladas. This is the taste of the tropics. This is the ivory of the palm. This is fresh coconut and coconut juice. Yum.
Krishnamurthy is a young man, about twenty-five. He has been climbing coconut palms since he was eight years old. He has been taking care of the palm trees for the last seventeen years! He knows each one, its health, its vagaries, and the qualities of its fruit. In return, the palm has lacerated the skin all over his body. His arms, legs, and feet have the unhealthy look of sandpaper, but the resulting scar tissue make it easier for him to climb. He has become a coconut-palm symbiont. He doesn’t use a belt. He just shinnies his way up the tree bending his legs and arms like an inchworm. He went up our sixty-foot palms in the time that it would take you and me to walk the same distance.
When the business was all done, Krishnamurthy went away, and a few moments later an old hag appeared in our back yard. I asked Jude what in Shiva’s name was this toothless crone doing here. Good thing the woman didn’t speak English. She was Krishnamurthy’s mother, and she had come for payment. Here, its seems, even coconut picking is a family affair.