I was staying at a friends’ place; her house is on the third floor of an apartment building. It faces a section of the road from where i could hear birds chirping, some traffic & her windchimes cling away. In a couple of days, I got used to it. But this shout from the coconut vendor got my attention.
Most of the other houses facing the road kept their windows shut and their air-conditioning on. Plus, in this apps age, to find a hawker screaming his lungs away to sell coconuts was rare. Right then I did some deep dive research i;e, google Coconut.
As per 2014–15 statistics from Coconut Development Board of Government of India, four southern states combined account for almost 90% of the total production in the country: Tamil Nadu (33.84%), Karnataka (25.15%), Kerala (23.96%), and Andhra Pradesh (7.16%).Though Kerala has the largest number of coconut trees, in terms of production per hectare, Tamil Nadu leads all other states – Wikipedia
From the trajectory of his voice & the way the tone kept tweaking, I knew this shout was for my friend S. But why was this guy so persistent to sell coconuts to her. As the question formed in my head – so did the answer.
Note: In my city, the best way to know someone is ill is if you find coconuts around them. I know it’s a loaded statement, but believe me – you go to a hospital, a sick relatives house, even a stranger, if they are ill, chances are you will find the green fruit resting on a side table or an open shelf arrangement. It’s the number one fruit, not apples or oranges that are sold, gifted and recommended to ‘get your strength back’.
S is a nature lover, loves staying on farms. For me coconuts equal illness. For her coconuts mean open skies tall tress beaches water freedom.
He wasn’t giving up. Now I knew why.
S had some kind of knee issue & was recuperating back in the city. She was mostly confined to her mattress on the ground level next to her French windows to see the Ashoka trees and hear the birds. That’s when she must have first heard the calls of the coconut vendor. I imagine when she heard the coconut vendor’s shouts this is what unfolded.
On the last call, I heard his voice shake. I went to the window.
Madam nahi hai. We made eye contact, I told him S wasn’t home.
I saw his face fall.
I signalled him to come up. He smiled and immediately walked towards the security gate.
Another note: In this city, it always played out that coconut vendors were mostly South Indians. Judging by the sheer number of coconuts their states produced, it wasn’t surprising. Many books, images, even movies had characters who were dark, strong man wearing a transparent vest & a lungi to boot.
Sir two or three? The coconut vendor asked me in smooth English at the door. Something was wrong.
How much for one?
55 sir. I looked at him again, drab yellow shirt & grey trousers. I knew that coconut vendors no longer wore lungis, not even regular South Indians do. Still
Give me one.
Take 2 sir, will give for 50.
Give me two for 90, I put my bargaining skills to test.
Lass hoga sir, he said in Hindi he would make a loss.
When I heard lass instead of lass, that’s when I realised – his accent – a north Indian – got you!
90 for two or I don’t want any, I put on my best convent accent.
He sighed & handed the coconuts over. I felt a pang, maybe I bargained a bit too much.
Madam kal ayegi – she will take more, I said referring to S.
He turned, without missing a beat he said –
Tell her to download our app sir. My son is handling it.
A brief pause later
I only do this because I cannot sit at home.
I smiled at him & closed the door. I sat in my room, heard the birds and traffic as I drank the coconut water. I was hoping he would shout again, but the coconut vendor had gone silent.
Photo courtesy – Artist Iruvan Karunakaran.