On the day of the cyclone we were watching the trees sway dangerously… branches and trees falling all around us as we secretly hoped the coconut tree blocking our view, too would fall. Other palm trees fell and so did the bamboos, but this one remained steadfast. Coconut trees are shaped by their surroundings. The skinny trunk is so flexible that it does not snap; instead, it adapts and bends into the gusts, to protect its trunk so that it can’t be swayed by the winds (of the world, perhaps?). These trees don’t necessarily grow deep roots, but thin ones that create a fibrous system going far and wide giving the tree unmatched stability. That day, as we surveyed the devastation wreaked by the storm, we decided to accept the coconut tree as ours! It had shielded our balcony, breaking the velocity of the wind… There isn’t much a coconut tree can’t fix!

Actually, you can think of it as The Giving Tree the Swiss Army Knife of the plant kingdom, and Kalpavriksha, which in Sanskrit means “tree of heaven” signifying a myth that it will produce whatever is asked of it. 

There’s a saying, “He who plants a coconut tree, plants food and drink, vessels and clothing, a home for himself and a heritage for his children.” Quite like the four major stages of our lives: innocent childhood, fragile adolescence, wrung adulthood and wisened old age, the coconut passes through four developmental stages from flower to fruit. The first one, where the coconut is immature, or green, the liquid within the inner shell is sweet and refreshing. Next, as the coconut begins to ripen a thin white layer of “meat” begins to line that inner shell for you to spoon out and eat. In stage three, the coconut continues to ripen as it remains on the tree, the meaty inner lining, thickening and hardening, its water turning tasteless; you can use this to extract oil. And in stage four, as a fully ripened coconut falls to the ground, it can germinate under the right conditions… a white spongy ball called the “apple” develops in the inner shell, absorbing the remaining tasteless water, giving way to a delicacy.

Every part of the coconut is useful to mankind including the roots, trunks, leaves, husks, fibre, fruit, water, sap, oil, milk and meat – nothing is wasted. The inspiring usefulness of the coconut makes me reflect on my own life.  Having worked in the thick of things for over twenty-five years, I am now a retired single woman living a quieter, more ‘on my own kind of life… I seem to have outgrown some things that previously sustained me: my jobs, my carefully curated house, my rampant need to socialise and my constant craving to stay connected.

This enforced solitude with the endless COVID situation has made one thing abundantly clear to me:

I don’t want to invest my energy in just another something…I want to be useful and I want to engage in things that have meaning.

Sometimes when I think about all those working years I wonder if it was time wasted on things that don’t seem to count anymore? Wasn’t it meant to provide some usefulness, a glory to live off today? Could it have been more? Something else? Of course, I realise soon enough that these are not useful questions and really does the coconut even know how useful it is? It’s just a coconut! It is the inventiveness of man that puts every part in use.

Why shouldn’t  I utilise every part of that self, to reinvent, re-imagine, re-germinate, all that I assimilated so far, like that fully matured and fallen on the ground coconut that’s taken to start a new life elsewhere, often on another island, washed by sea currents? Suddenly Living that coconut kinda life is in reach! I am precious and useful, the past, present and future of me, I must now use it! My germination has begun because here I am happy, sharing my apple self… making it useful

Neerja Shah

Former Publisher Editor of Elle India & TV Producer

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