Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Coconuts Away!

Coconut felling is a community activity.

There are a couple of coconut trees right outside my bedroom balcony. They are tall trees, rising well past my second floor balcony and bearing fruit at the fourth and fifth floors. One tree is ramrod straight, shooting out of the earth like a geyser, while the other appears more wind-swept as it curves backwards to look like a reflected C from my point of view. Both trees have their own private space to grow in, littered with broken bricks. However, they hang over the adjoining road like umbrellas, noticeable only when it rains. And it was about to rain coconuts.

A man walked up to the bent tree. He was bare-chested and wore workman-like blue trousers that were rolled up to above the knees. He stepped out of his weather-beaten leather chappals and left them at the base of the tree, like he was about to enter a temple. Then, as effortlessly as one presses an elevator button, he embraced the tree, put the soles of both of his feet on the trunk, and in a caterpillar-like motion, shimmied up. He used no apparatus, no rope tied around his feet to prevent slippage, no rope that tethered his waist to the tree to rest if he so wished, no safety nets in case he fell. It was almost as if he had been walking down a street, spied a coconut tree and decided it would be a good idea to go up and gather coconuts.

In less than two minutes, he was at the top of this five-storied tree. The tree-climber has a team-mate on the road, probably his boss. The team-mate has two main jobs: to direct traffic and to keep calling up to his climber. This is where the community aspect comes into play. Tea shop hangers-by in the vicinity who have nowhere to go and nothing to do come out to chip in. They stand on the other side of the road from the team-mate and help in directing traffic. Vehicles are stopped and a space is cleared beneath the drop zone of the coconut tree. Then, the barrage begins.

With his bare hands, the climber yanks out fruits and dead branches. There is a hailstorm of coconuts. Fruits of varying colour - green, brown and grey, depending on their age - and size pelt onto the asphalt and bounce awkwardly, like an American football that has been punted. Other tea-drinkers and bike-squatters gather the runaway coconuts - one has rolled as far as the housing community some distance behind the tea shops - and throw them onto a growing pile of coconuts, reminiscent of leaf piles in the fall. The vigilant team-mate calls for a break and allows the growing traffic to pass. Then, the on-ground team clears space again and the rainfall resumes.

The climber descends as he went up. With dexterity that would leave Spider-man in awe, he comes down, passing through some foliage from another tree on the way, and even halting halfway down the tree to carry out a conversation with his team-mate. This entire sortie is carried out on the other tree as well. Even though it is tougher by degrees, since it is straight as a ruler and taller, the climber is up in a couple of minutes, fires coconuts for about five minutes and comes back down in two minutes. A woman picks up fallen fruit in a old sack that had initially carried cement.

Jobs done, the team dissolves. The woman takes away the coconuts, the climber and his team-mate move on to the next tree further down the road, the tea-drinkers and bike-squatters go back to their benches and their bikes, and the traffic flows by unaware that an age-old tradition has taken place in this urban corner of modernity.

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