My mother had very green fingers. She planted a coconut tree in our small garden in Pune, the year I was born. And before I learned to spell “Kalpavruksha”, I was living and learning coconuts.
green and smooth as a child, sheltered at the centre, under the generous maternal palm leaves. Like me, at puberty, away from the tree , an introduction to the world around.
Being tough outside. A rough peeling of fake attitudes and cleansing before learning to be useful in the home. The rough dried fibres combed with a machete, like my fashionably dry hair, being combed by my mother, shaking her head, and proceeding with a great coconut oil massage. The typical sound of a coconut being broken, the clamour to get a sweet sip of the coconut water.
The coconut meat, shredded , sitting on a “vili”; some to be used for dal, subjees, and chutneys, and some to extract sweetness in the form of coconut milk. Like a busy young bitter-sweet life, and you remained what your Mother Tree taught you.
Bath soaps in our time were looked down upon. Milk, Cream, or better still, Coconut milk, mixed into a paste with Ambehaldi , and an ayurvedic herb like Ghavalakasri, worked like magic. Nothing to beat the mixed scents of a coal fired copper boiler, and this paste slathered , rubbed and being washed off by the hot water, on a winter morning.
A full active day in school/college, and we would use the coir “shendis” of the whole coconut, to clean our roughened toes and heels, and then rub some coconut milk or even coconut oil on to them at night. More milk for our faces. The natural coconut fat worked itself on our skin, and fought early morning winter cycling winds for us, as we rushed for PT classes In college.
It wasn’t really all about preserving our, sometimes non existent beauty. There was a no-nonsense quality about the coconut. Its life was not about appearing Page 3, but being comprehensively useful to society.
Age affected the coconut tree, and sometimes the palm fronds fell off. I have seen folks sitting in the afternoons with sharp implements, and creating fine long sticks, that ultimately became a broom. There was even some kind of oil extracted from the tough brown shell, that was used medicinally for discoloration on limbs, by older folks. We used coconuts to honor elders, and God, breaking them in front of the latter as a check on our egos.
My mother gave me the unshelled coconut from “my” tree when I got married. I still have the wrinkled shell. Twenty five years later, my mother passed away.
Strangely, the tree has never borne fruit after her , and later passed away itself.