September 2nd is World Coconut Day to celebrate this towering king of all trees.
Growing up in a Kerala village, coconuts were a part of everyday living. The many majestic coconut palms surrounding our home helped pay the bills. The coconut cropper came by every 45 days. After keeping aside enough coconuts for our cooking, the rest — several hundred — were sold for a tidy sum. Coconut-cropping day also meant a treat for the children. Several tender coconuts, too, were cropped just so we may drink their sweet water and eat the soft flesh.
Another regular visitor to our compound was the toddy-tapper. After climbing down his last coconut tree, he’d sometimes let me taste the sweet nascent toddy. A local coconut-oil mill bought most of the village’s coconuts. Toddy shops bought the toddy. Coconut fronds, chopped off the trees, were used for thatched roofs. Nothing got from the palms is ever wasted. Even the coconut’s fibrous husk is used for rope-making. And before battery-powered torch-lights became commonplace, dried coconut leaves were tied together in a long bundle, known as a chute in Malayalam, and lit at one end so people outdoors could find their way in the dark.
Mohan Sivanand is a journalist and artist. He was with Reader’s Digest for 32 years, serving as the magazine’s India Editor-in-Chief for a decade until his retirement in 2015. He teaches journalism at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai.