Recently when my friend Kumar did what we used to do decades back, it took me back in time. During my casual visit I was handed over half a dozen of their surplus coconuts from their only tree. We had six old and tall trees in the backyard where also a mango and jackfruit trees were. Since there is no photograph, I have tried to recall on paper, a rough sktech for this purpose.
It was in the house we fondly recall as 1100, its door number. My grandfather had bought the big house in 1950 which by then was, as per the deed, was already "more than forty years old". Guesstimating by its height their age was between 70-80 years old in 1985, as old as the house itself and had reached a great height. They were the tallest in the area even from the time I could recall, having been in that house for the first 40 years of my life. The 1100 completely left us in 2009, in a turn of events.
[Picture from 1991. See '1100']
I took this picture [click all pictures to enlarge] of '1100' in 2001 from balcony of the opposite house. Parts of three of those tall coconut trees at the back of the house are marked 'see'. The other three had been chopped down just a few years before this picture was taken. The back of the house was a few feet lower. About the young coconut tree seen in front of the house, I will brief later.
The six vintage trees were giving good fruit and yield, even with not much care. During the storms the high speed winds they swayed dangerously. The sight of the swaying trees used to make us extremely tense. If there was a storm at night, it would be impossible to sleep until the wind calmed. To be sure that no fronds or loose mature nuts fell on the tiled roof of the house [Iyengar's house] across the conservancy we would eagerly wait to get them removed as soon as whichever tree climber came asking.
Many times we used to pray nothing untoward should happen esp. during the storms. Nothing had happened before and nothing in their lives. It is said that the coconut tree, fronds or nuts will not fall on humans. 99% is true barring a few stray and extremely rare incidents of tree falling on people or a nut falling on someone's head. There is one person Hari on whose head a nut had fallen when he was a young boy. He is still around.
A few times, some loose fruit had accidentally fallen on Iyengar's house] but luckily no one had been hurt for decades. We used to replace the broken tiles when they came asking. We had an old stock of a few tens of them. They were so understanding.
One coconut tree climber used to come periodically. I forgot his name of this 55 plus man who had a bald pate. Climbing these tall trees needed skill and experience, more so dropping the nuts one by one patiently and fronds carefully inside the compound or at safe open space in the narrow conservancy. He was the right man for this location and we were lucky as he was as patient as he was decent, though he would show occasional hints of arrogance.
The dropped nuts would bounce and fly in all directions, if they fell on the compound or hit some hard object by chance. So we had to watch him pluck and drop from a safe distance. If someone was passing through the conservancy, he would shout from his perch before dropping. Two of the six trees were relatively safe as their 'heads' were in line with our open yard. Two were right above Iyengar's roof and the trees on either end leaned outward over the conservancy. He also had to take care of the electric wires in the conservancy and the clothes lines in our yard!
When this man stopped coming, some other climber had to be engaged. We had no other choice but to trust and beg him to pluck carefully. The fee was the same @Rupees ten per tree. Only those trees would be climbed where a good number of nuts were identified by him were mature. One such climber we got was young and rash and he started dropping the entire bunch that made our hearts pop to our mouths. He never heeded to our shouting from below to pluck one by one. Luckily nothing happened, when it fell on the compound and bounced in all directions and a frond he threw hit the power lines. Luckily not long after, we found another good climber in one Murali.
Murali in his early 20s was from the neighbouring locality. He was a timid fellow, slightly retarded in mental development and from a very poor family. But he was skillful. We would also give Murali also Rs.10/ tree and he would also help in dehusking the nuts @ ten paisa/ nut. During the mango season he would carefully pluck mangoes too. Each time he climbed a tree my mother and aunt would pray and before he did that, "Careful, Murali, be careful." He was known to be epileptic. Another rare knack he had is here in a separate short post: [Click].
Gathering all the plucked nuts and storing them on the lumber room attic was a fun job for me. It was never a chore for me, somehow, including gathering dry fronds and other tree waste, which we would store and use for fueling the water boiler. Fruits that had less water in them went separately to make copra many weeks later while the 'right' ones were kept aside for deshelling. All the parts of the tree are useful in some way or other. It is known as 'Kalpavriksha' in Sanskrit.
Monkey menace was another headache we had. They used to climb the tree, neatly 'drill' a hole, drink the water and dropped the nuts. Once it gave us sleepless nights. It had left the empty nut in the groove of a horizontal frond which was above Iyengar's house. We could see it clearly from below. The moment we spotted, it created tension. We prayed to find Murali or someone to arrive, but none came. On the third day, Murali came, like godsend! It had lain there for 3 days and had given us 3 sleepless nights!
Earlier my father used to deshell the nuts for urgent needs, using a thick sickle. When I grew up, I had learnt to do the same. Later, I modified the method used by professionals. I used a garden pickaxe instead of a short crowbar, driven into the ground with the sharp flattened end pointing upward to which the shell is pierced and torn using hand force.
We came across someone who was selling a mechanical dehusker. The man was walking the streets to sell. This was a great boon because it reduced the drudgery to a great extent.
With passing years the trees seemed to be still growing and reaching the sky, so was our tension. Murali had prematurely died [sadly he had fallen from a tree by slipping, in someone's premise] and that there was no suitable climber available.
So to avert any possible mishap, one by one, the trees were felled by expert tree-choppers. We felt really sad but it was such a relief. But we took solace in the fact that four trees had been planted in the front yard in 1985.
When the logs were cut to size, my mother retained four pieces while the rest were used up for the boiler fuel which lasted for one year. I made stools from the neat pieces. The inspiration was from similar stools made from taxidermied elephant legs, which I had seen decades ago in a movie theatre.
Capt.Srikantaiah, from our opposite house had given us four sprouted coconut plants from a beautiful variety of his old tree at his house.
[This is a picture I took holding the camera against the trunk]
Here is a view from 1991. The tree that I planted was very small at that time.
It was still there in 2012 when the house I grew up was demolished. What happened to the property was hinted at the beginning. The same tree is seen in this picture grown much. The trees also continued to give good fruits and held its reputation.
I moved to our other ancestral house in 1998. It had two coconut trees. One was very old and the other was only about 15-20 years old. The latter had been planted by the tenant.
This is the newer tree which had developed some disease and had made the trunk soft. So I decided to chop it down to avert danger.
I identified in our album picture, the older tree. [Pictured right] It must be from 1941 when a marriage had taken place in the house. The tips of the fronds are seen at the right corner. It had a reputation of not yielding fruits properly all its life. I had briefly tried to do something to alleviate the problem with the help of the Horticultural Society but to no avail. Things remained the same even after 4 years of being treated and well watered. A relative who had been born here in 1927 when he visited after 50 years looked at the tree and asked "Does it bear fruit now? It had not been earlier."!
This is how tall it had grown in 2009 when it was chopped down when further alterations were taking place in the family/house.
This is the same view of the old picture. The couple were standing where the blue-short tree chopper is standing. The tree is party cut.
That was the last we had of coconut trees. Coconut tree climbers too had reduced in number and even when someone came, they had hiked to Rs.50/- per tree while some charged 'per nuts plucked'. It was becoming an unreasonable and expensive affair.
From several angles it was realized that buying coconuts were cheaper and not having a coconut tree despite having space is advantageous in these days.
In fact, I will cherish the experience of caring and being with the eight Kalpavrikshas for a long time.