If when I wake up in the morning, look out through the window, and see a beautiful sunrise, I immediately walk out to the balcony to click a picture. In the scores of pictures thus taken there is a constant. To the right of the frame can be seen the unmistakable silhouette of a lone coconut tree. It was not always alone. There had been two more to keep it company when I moved here – to this house – eight years back. But they were cut down, and now there is only this one, standing like a lone sentinel next to its owner’s house.
One thing about my home state is that whether sunrise or sunset, or the in between times, your clicks will always have coconut trees somewhere in them. Left, right, center, far or near. Is it any wonder that it is called Kerala (The name is Keralam in Malayalam). Kera is coconut, hence Keralam, the land of coconuts. There are of course those who dispute this explanation. There always is another version (sometimes more) to everything, isn’t there? Especially things whose origin is not documented. Not that the documented ones don’t suffer the same fate. Anyway, the disputers to this claim are of the opinion that Keralam is merely a variant derived from Chera, the name of ‘one of the principal lineages in the early history of the present day state of Kerala and some parts of neighboring Tamil Nadu‘
Whatever the reason behind the state getting the name, we do have a lot of kera vriksham (vriksham is tree) in the length and breadth of the state. The numbers they say, have gone down terribly over time. Of course, that’s a fact which is self evident. I remember my own childhood with coconut groves practically everywhere. In fact one could say the state was one huge coconut grove, dotted with residences. Now it is the other way around.
Every single part of the tree is put to use. From making brooms from the leaf ribs, to making coir from the coconut husk, the uses are endless. Then there are the coconuts, tender ones that quench your thirst and the well formed ones used liberally, in various ways, in our cuisine. In addition, there is the coconut oil too which we cannot do without whether it be for avial or fish curry. The doctors in the present disapprove and are trying their best to lead us away from this coconut dependency of ours.
Where once no one bought coconuts from stores – each house had at least one tree in its yard – now most of us have no other way to lay our hands on one but the very same stores. With the dwindling numbers, I doubt if the ubiquitous coconut tree will be ‘intruding’ into very picture in the future like it does now. That will be a sad day though when it goes missing.
P.S. The colloquial name for the coconut tree is thengu, and for the coconut it is either naalikeram or thenga
© Shail Mohan 2020