An Autobiography of a ‘Tender Coconut’

Jan 10, 2010

Into this world …

It was early June. The monsoons had just set in!!

I was only a couple of weeks old, born in Devdas Nayak’s large compound in Mannagudda to my mother who was 15 years of age. I was her 23rd generation offspring and was enjoying every moment of my existence and was ecstatic to have come into this world. The first thing I learnt and experienced was to sway from one end to the other depending on which way the strong wind blew. My mom bending her stem 45 degrees almost touching one of her cousins on the other side was a marvellous experience. With the dark clouds hovering on the sky, coupled with the bolts of lightning and claps of thunder followed by rain was truly adventurous, so much so I could not help singing: 

What a super-duper world this is …

The sky and the clouds, the birds and the breeze

At 80 feet, we seemed to be one of the tallest around

Looking down – houses, plants and humans I found!

With the leaves, flowers and my siblings I swayed …

Swaying and swaying … my great days were made!!

My mom’s Master Devdas Nayak and his wife Sudha Nayak were retired people having worked in the Canara Bank in different parts of the country over the years. During those times when they were away, they had employed one Satish Rai as their gardener who mom says looked after her very well. Now back home, looking after the numerous types of plants and trees on their huge compound was Nayaks’ utmost priority. They used to top my mom’s base with different kinds of manure that included even the waste of sardines. Thus, my mom was not short of food at any time of the year and we all benefited. My mom was thankful to have had such a wonderful Master. If you look at her fruits just under the crown of her frondlike leaves and yellow blossoms, they were all chubby. Gazing at my siblings, I wished I could grow the chubbiest amongst all. A glance at the adjacent Ashish Ballal’s compound and drawing a comparison, there was a hell of a difference between us, for sure.

Mom’s tales… 

Apart from swaying from one end to the other, listening to the booming noise of the planes flying overhead, hearing the chirping of the birds and the cry of crickets for more rain, inhaling the muddy smell and taking a nap - the next best favourite past-time of mine was to listen to stories as told by mom. These tales increased my knowledge manifold but a few of them did scare me to hell!

Mom took extreme pride in narrating in detail the usefulness of her species to humankind and as a result how well they were cared for in general. She says humans regard it as “the tree which provides all the necessities of life” or simply in other words “tree of life.” 

She covered a part of herself each time as she unfolded her story. As far as her different part goes, she said both ripe and dried did carry equal importance in the eyes of a human. Pointing at us, she explained how we enjoyed the hallowed status of a select few herbs. 

Apart from humans, my parts were also useful for birds and rodents, she added. To illustrate this, she told me a story whereby a human climbed one of her species on St. Mary’s Island only to be stung by a swarm of honey bees who had made that cousin of hers as their abode, building a bee-hive under the nuts which the human in question did not comprehend. For a moment, I wished the bees would build a hive under us so that no human would venture and we would have a life to live to the full. “If only wishes were horses, the whole world would be full of horse dung …” 

Mom talked of neighbouring Sri Lanka where cousins of hers bore fruits called as the King Coconuts that were short in stature and indigenous to that country. She told me about the ‘tsunami’ that had hit that island nation before I was born and as to how her species saved a lot of humans by aiding them to climb on to their stems. ‘Your mom has a very strong fibrous root system unlike some other plants which have tap root or root hairs,’ she said.

Hearing all these interesting stories day in and day out used to make my day and I must confess my nose did go higher and higher. I was proud as to the status we enjoyed with humans and the importance they attached to us.

Life goes on …

As days passed, the monsoons slowly started receding and finally came to an end. Then came winter … and along with it the festive season.

It was October. The ‘diyas’ that adorned the compound of the huge house and the ‘Akashabutti’ perched in the facade gave an elegant look. My mom’s Master’s children and their children had crowded the house and there was lot of noise. It was pleasing to hear their voices though and the warmth it generated. During the day, the smaller ones played the game of ‘hide and seek,’ hiding behind my mom’s broad stem. They also sat on the swing below that made a creaking sound every time it swayed. My mom says the swing was to be seen when she was conceived years ago. Come evening, the real celebrations commenced and carried on for three days. The crackers went off generating loud bangs … I was not all that scared as mom had prepared us for this as she was used to experiencing the festivities year after year and had in fact devised plans to protect us. Suddenly a rocket zoomed past me and it missed me by a whisker and if not for mom who tilted towards her right by reflex action, I would have been hit and injured. The Tulsi Katte at the front of the house was given its due importance. Tulsi Pooja was conducted that signified the end of Diwali.

A couple of months rolled. It was almost the end of the year and the house witnessed a wedding. The entire compound including the house was lit this time with small miniature bulbs. My mom’s stem like others around was decorated with these bulbs that flickered.

I was taken away…

Many of my siblings fell down on earth in their old age when their husk had become brown, the coir drier, softer and had a natural death living their full life cycle. Some of them dropped down in their infancy and others when they were quite young. I always pondered what lay ahead for me in life … heart of hearts I yearned for a natural death. I was enjoying my adolescence - transforming from a youth to an adult. But as luck would have it, that seemed to be short-lived.

It was a quite a sunny day in the second half of January and I was preparing to take my normal nap, when by chance I spotted a half-naked human right below, with a rope in hand and a sword suspended at his back getting ready to climb my mom. He was Gautham Poojary, my mom had said whom my mom’s Master employed year after year for the job of harvesting nuts of his compound. The very sight of him made my heart skip a beat. My mom looked to be weeping silently for something she had no control and the pangs of parting with her children. With the power of the human, she was indeed helpless!!

Very soon he was half way through reaching for the top, staring at all of us. Once up, just below my siblings, he tested by gently tapping them with his middle finger as long as he was satisfied, then with his palm and once content that these are the ones he was looking for, twisted them and threw them on the ground below. For some others who did not easily come out from mom’s hold, he reached his back for the sword and with a whack knocked them down. Woof! That must have been painful. I was a bit obscured from his view for I was on the opposite side. I prayed hard that he would get down without coming to my side. My prayers were never heard as he was on the other side before I could wink and even think. 

Very soon, he was right under my nose. I reminiscenced all the wonderful days I spent with mom and my other siblings. The swaying, the stories, the children … I took solace in the fact I survived with mom more than many others did and that gave me comfort. Thanks to mom … with her I passed my infancy, teens, youth and was in the process of adulthood. Honestly, I was not really all that scared for by now with mom’s coaching knew very well how to face life, come what may. I was confidant of standing on my own legs and survive in this world. I bid adieu to mom, kissing her and whispered I would miss her dearly. As Gautham placed his five fingers of his palm and twisted me, I did not offer resistance. Another phase of my life had come to an end as I fell on the ground.

I am an optimist and I knew I had to be ready for the next phase of my life without the warmth and comfort of my mom at my side. However, I knew her thoughts and prayers were always with me. Lying on the earth, I felt suffocated and thought I would breathe my last, but nay! I was destined to live.

I lost consciousness.

My next phase … 

The next day I awoke and found myself in a cart in front of the old Kankanady Post Office along with my few siblings and acquaintances. The road in the front and the one parallel was bustling with people and vehicles. Abdul Rehman, my new Master used to etch his living from the proceeds he derived by selling us here. When he had no customers, he intensely looked at us and tried to drive away the flies that caused us nuisance. He used to constantly turn us around and change our positions and thus I had a good view of the surroundings … sometimes facing the road leading to the Kankanady Market, other times the road leading to the Valencia roundabout. Many a times, I was placed with my eyes pointing upwards towards the sky, the view which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Abdul had segregated us into three categories in his big four wheel cart: Rs. 6/-, Rs. 9/- and Rs. 12/-. The first category consisted of fully matured nuts with very little water, the second were filled with the advanced medium stage nuts. Since I was a bit chubby and belonged to the tender to medium stage of my growth, I was placed under the last category along with a few others. I had a wonderful upbringing and my size was a proof of that. People came and went and of course no one wanted to buy me or anyone in the category where I was placed for that matter. For a common human, we were a bit expensive which was understandable during these recession times. The Rs. 9/- were the fast moving ones. Since they were placed in the middle of the cart in front of my own eyes, I saw them go one by one without a wimp. I enjoyed my freedom being relaxed and breathing some fresh air day in and day out. The only times I used to get the fright was when the No. 5 private passenger buses zoomed past us in pairs competing with each other. My only wish was not to fall under any of these and get killed.

However, my freedom did not last long. A gentleman with a paunch and a French moustache landed from gulf one day through Air India Express direct flight. Standing in front of the cart, felt me and instantly looking straight into my eyes and demanded to know how much I was worth. Looking at this man from head to toe, my Master had no hesitation in saying Rs. 15/-, an on-the-spot upward revision of Rs. 3/- which made me happy nevertheless. Without any fuss, with the price quoted, he bought me instantly.

My Master pulled his sword pecked on his cart, bent forward with the tip facing towards me and with a bang lifted me up, kept me at the cart’s edge, chopped the upper part of my body in no time. That suffocated me further but I was breathing. He gave me to the moustache man but the man nodded to his daughter Carol standing nearby to take hold of me. I landed into her tender hands. What a lovely touch!! But here I was not alone … the moustache man had bought a sibling of mine as well, placed in the same category for the same price.

That walk from the cart to the hospital is the one I would always cherish. With the breeze hitting my back, I nostalgically remembered the days swaying with my mom. Soon the father-daughter duo was at the entry gates of the Fr. Muller’s Hospital.

I believe species like me were not allowed inside the hospital premises till late. The watchman stationed near the gate with khaki uniform used to always point out at the board on the wall prohibiting our entry. Of late, a new management had taken over and better sense had prevailed for we were considered the fluid of life so to speak, as they realised our healing qualities on humans who were taken ill. So now, we were the most important guests to walk inside with the watchman giving us a salute as we were carried in.

In the Hospital premises… 

The pair walked for nearly half a mile and turned left at the green building in what looked to be a ward. They entered a single room and along with my sister kept me down under the patient’s bed. By their talk, I learnt the mother of the moustache man was taken ill. She had suffered a stroke.

Very soon, it was night and the gates of the ward closed. The moustache man had left and it was his daughter who had volunteered herself to stay for the night. Normally, the two daughters of the patient who lived locally would take turns. I was spared that night but by sister who was a bit younger to me was butchered … I could hear her groan but they left me at peace.

The night passed and the day dawned. It was a Sunday. The ward was cleant using a substance that smelt like dettol. The nurses came and changed the bedding. As they were changing, one lifted me up and placed me in between the legs of the adjacent table. After they were gone, the grand-daughter asked the grand-mother whether she would like to have me. The grandma had replied in the affirmative. 

I prayed again for reprieve. This time my prayers were answered. Chris Brown’s ‘Forever’ number suddenly took off – Oh! It was Carol’s cell ringing and that was the ring tone. I could hear her giggling, romantically conversing with the person at the other end for a while after which she disappeared only to return later. I sensed she was engaged and that made me very jealous. When she came back, she was in a fantasy world and had forgotten all about me. I was spared. Meanwhile, the grandma’s son had arrived and they were having breakfast together.

Lots of humans had come to visit my patient and thus it was a noisy day indeed. I hate noise … I always like serene surroundings. However, by early evening all had left and there was peace. 

The grand-daughter again stayed with grandma that night. She looked to be a down to earth person though she belonged to ‘Generation Y.’ There was a special bonding between the grandma and her grand-daughter. I too liked her although I was not very sure of the other way round. She had carried me in her hands into the hospital last evening making me even to forget what lay ahead for me. She had come accompanying her father after her University exams because she wanted to see grandma and be with her in person for sometime.

Rest assured, I knew it was another good night of hassle-free sleep.

The next day… 

In the morning, the grand-daughter’s mobile rang. It was her father Mr. Pinto. Very soon he was there and after enquiring about as to how the night had passed, stayed back as she took leave. 

Immediately after Carol left, without any warning the son advised his mother that he would give my water to her for which the grandma nodded. He lifted me up and tried to open me with a kitchen knife that was in the drawer. But since I had turned a bit brown and hard, found it difficult … went to the nurses’ room and returned with a bigger knife and cut me open by making a hole right in the centre of my head. ‘My heart came into my mouth.’  

Since the patient was not comfortable to have my water with a straw inserted inside me … he emptied a part of my slightly milky water in a glass and gave it to his mother … who slowly took it sip by sip and relished. Once the glass was about half empty, he filled her cup again and this he did three times more till my last drop fell out. Water is an essential part of life and all this while, I was surviving on my own water. Now I was technically dead. I remembered my mom who used to say that the ultimate death would come swiftly and suddenly.

After I was emptied of my water, the son kept me under the bed and advised his mother to lie down and take rest as he was going to meet her Doctor and would be back soon.

The garbage collector was doing his usual rounds in the morning. Very soon he came to the room. He finished emptying the bin and took the contents away and returned to carry me. 

Pointing at me, the grandma humbly requested the garbage collector - Would you leave this for my grand-child please? ‘I just had its water a couple of minutes ago. My grand-child relishes its white flesh.’ She is away and should be back before noon.

“She is born and raised in a place where there are plenty of date-palms and not necessarily these. When it comes to soft drinks she is fond of colas, fruit juices, milk shakes but of a tender coconut she enjoys its white meat.”

The garbage collector, an elderly man himself was so taken and asked grandma. Are you talking about your grand-daughter?

That’s right, grandma added with a mischievous grin. She is already a grown up girl and is one in a million. After she arrived, I am feeling so much better and lively. My son has even gone to meet the Doctor to see the prospects of taking me back home.

“Even I have two girls,” the garbage collector said. As you concur the daughters are always nice as the saying goes: “A son will stay with his parents until he meets his wife, but a daughter looks after her parents throughout life.” Though both are married and stay quite a distant away from us, they take turns to visit us and make sure that all is well. Especially when any one of us is sick, make it a point to be with us looking after our well-being.” 

“That’s a bit of an overstatement. Of course, the daughters have always been there. But it was my son who actually took care of everything, went abroad, brought up our family and looked after my late husband and myself very well. He is my wonderful little boy.” exclaimed grand-mother.

Well! I need to go. I will leave him here for now. I will come tomorrow morning and clear him off, said the garbage collector looking at me and left. 

There was a nurse, short in structure but rich in love who generated genuine warmth and affection. She was posted at that ward. She spent a lot of time taking care of my patient, fondly talking to her and making her feel at home. My patient loved to chat with this nurse who was selfless in service and felt better each time she did. As grandma was speaking with this nurse, Carol arrived and the nurse excused herself. 

She looked to have rushed back finishing some of her works to release her father. The grandma could make out Carol was tired as well as hungry and said - “I have kept this tender-coconut for you my child.”

The girl’s father cut me open into two and handed me over to his daughter with a spoon and she was obviously delighted. Since I was in the middle stages, I was covered with flesh. I was not fully matured and hence my meat was not only soft but also thick. 

“Thank you grandma,” the grand-daughter said as she scooped the next piece of meat and pulled it into her mouth. “The coconut jelly is so delicious. It’s my favourite.” 

“Of late, we do get it sometimes in our place,” exclaimed the grand-daughter. “I heard they come from the Dhofar region of Sultanate of Oman, particularly the area around Salalah where they are grown in plenty. But they are very expensive and taste-wise it is nowhere near this.”

And that was her sumptuous lunch.

My Last Journey…

That evening, my patient was discharged. The Doctors had supervised her late afternoon and took a decision that she could go home. 

It was a prolonged chilly winter … probably the effect of climate change. For the first time in my life, I was feeling very lonely and cold. There was no-one in that special ward and I was left all alone. I was feeling very low so much so I did not get sleep the whole night. I was thinking of Carol … I wondered whether she spared any thought for me.

In the morning, the nurses came, changed the bedding and set it ready for the next patient. 

The garbage collector with his typical blue dress arrived and with his hands adorned with bright yellow gloves, bent and lifted my two halves still thinly attached and placed me inside the long black garbage bag.

Later, I was put in a wheeled-aluminum-container where many of my cousins had already assembled. From there, the same afternoon, we were emptied in a tempo where many more of my species were filled – a few still full and others cut into half like me. All I can remember from that point is we were driven in one direction. Every fifteen minutes, the driver stopped and a few of us were emptied. Since I was further down very near to the driver’s back, my turn was yet to come. After another fifteen minutes of driving, another lot was emptied and thus after another four lots … it was my turn along with a few others.

I was sold again this time in a group. I had a new Master now - Mrs. Agnes Menezes. She lived in an old Christian tiled house along with her son’s family who was a Lecturer in the Alva’s Degree College in Moodbidri. I was already weary and tired and in a way fed up of life. But my positive attitude still kept me going.

Once she brought us home, she wasted no time in ripping us off into many fragments of crescent shape. But I was holding on to the rest of my body as my fibre was still attached though strictly speaking I had disintegrated. For the next few days, we were put at the back yard under the direct rays of the sun that was not that strong because the summer was yet to set in. It took a long time for me to get dried, but as the days passed slowly I turned into deep brown and became hard as ever. As I lay under the sun, I recalled stories my mom had told me about the final journey of her other children. Some were lucky to be part of several Hindu rituals after being completely matured; some were turned into finished products like coir, door mats, ropes, brushes, caulking boats and sacks; few were exported to different countries in the name of copra and others were used as bodies of various musical instruments. May be they were more fortunate in their death, I mumbled to myself.

The huge house had a gigantic bronze vessel in the bathroom to heat the water that was used by the house members to bathe. Daily a portion of the dried husks were being emptied and used as fuel to get the water heated. One early morning, Mrs. Menezes picked all of my outer husks along with a few others in a flat basket, took and put us under the bronze vessel, sprayed kerosene and lit us. It was a Tuesday, the 17th of February.

I emitted bright red fire for sometime before changing and settling for blue. I burnt and burnt until I turned into deep black charcoal after which I continued to burn for long as I can remember. By now, I was in ashes.

I had breathed my last.

Stephen DSouza - Archives:

by Stephen P. D’Souza - Melbourne, Australia
Author’s Note: This Article pertaining to a Tender Coconut’s journey on earth, is a fiction. Thus, all the characters mentioned herein are fictitious. Any resemblance to the characters in this ‘piece of writing’ to people either living or dead is merely co-incidental.
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Comment on this article

  • Janet D'souza, mumbai

    Wed, Jan 20 2010

    Dear Stephen, Great good ! When you will come to Mumbai ..... I need congratulate you .... Good article....Keep it up

  • Mohd. Ridhan Assadi, Mangalore, Falnir

    Sun, Jan 17 2010

    Beautifully written. The art of adding emotion and depth to something so regular and unnoticed, great work Stephen!

  • nelson, mangalore/kuwait

    Wed, Jan 13 2010

    Bondaa story. Nice and interesting.

  • Cecilia Amin, Mumbai/Canada

    Tue, Jan 12 2010

    Congratulations Stephen, Good article.

  • Praveen Fernandes, Bendur, Mangalore

    Tue, Jan 12 2010

    This Article is a beauty. I have been reading all your Articles which are very indepth and this has been the best thus far. Keep writing!

  • Melwyn Dsouza, Mangalore

    Mon, Jan 11 2010

    Waav.... Good One .Just yesterday had tender coconut from the boy who's photograph ed in the article .( Valencia Cross Road ) Excellent thinking and story telling ability you have Mr Stephen , Congratulations and keep it up.

  • Aziz, Mangalore/Dubai

    Mon, Jan 11 2010

    Well written autobiography...I felt just 2 points are missed. 1. Mention of toddy tapping 2. Mention of some of the coconuts getting spared to attain the motherhood.

  • Vidya Shetty, Mangalore

    Mon, Jan 11 2010

    Hi Stephen – I had read your Article yesterday and by chance had savoured the tender coconut in the afternoon for unlike yesteryears it is hot and humid here in Mangalore. While savouring, my hubby and myself remembered your Article and wondered where the ones we had would continue its journey from now on. Today, I could not help reading it again. Very well written. Congratulations. Do keep us entertaining with many more Articles of this nature. All the best.

  • Sugandhi, Mangalore/Abu dhabi

    Sun, Jan 10 2010

    Ha ha, i had a good laugh and thoroughly enjoyed it!thats a wonderful creative thinking!excellent!

  • Antony D'Cunha, Permude/Muscat

    Sun, Jan 10 2010

    As always, this article is also an interesting one and I enjoyed every bit of it as I am very familiar with the process due to my rural upbringing.

  • rean clive, kadandale / UAE

    Sun, Jan 10 2010

    a beautiful auto biography keep it up stephen

  • Radhika Bhat, Dubai

    Sun, Jan 10 2010

    Very well written. What a journey the tender coconut made! The scenes of Mangalore were very vividly pictured.Would be difficult to look at a tender coconut without remembering this article.

  • Walter V Dsouza, Moodbidri-Paladka, Doha, Qatar

    Sun, Jan 10 2010

    Hi Stephen, your article was imaginative and well written. However you erred in giving the poor T.C (tender coconut) a tragic end. I wonder how a T.C that was burnt to ashes could tell a tale. Its only an after thought and I enjoyed reading your article. Having lots of coconut trees myself I will be now looking at them in a different light. They are the main target for the monkeys in our area. Wish you all the best

  • Joyce Rego, Bajpe /Abu Dhabi

    Sun, Jan 10 2010

    Congratulations! Excellent article. By the way belated Birthday wishes too. You all have a nice day. God Bless You. Joyce

  • Fr. Praveen Dsouza, Mangalore/Philippines

    Sat, Jan 09 2010

    Well written, creative and thoughtful article Stephen. Congratulations.

  • Ranjith, Mangalore, KSA

    Sat, Jan 09 2010

    Very well written. Keep it up. God Bless.

  • Lydia Lobo, Kadri

    Sat, Jan 09 2010

    Nice one Stephen ! You will surely be remembered next time I enjoy a tender coconut because I will have not time to recall the journey of the one that quenches my thirst then.

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Title: An Autobiography of a ‘Tender Coconut’

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