Monday, June 20, 2011

tree lore

Gardens are important here in the Konkan. The coast might not be productive in terms of adding to the Nation-state’s stores of food, but it provides its residents with plenty of varied and nutritious food for the body and flowers for the soul. The thrifty Konkani woman also loses no opportunity to earn a few extra rupees. The markets are full of garden produce- a small basket of flowers, a few seeds, a couple of pineapples ; the sales are not enough to justify a trip to the market, but a nice addition if one is going anyway.

And so, gardens are important. The monsoon rains bring with them an orgy of exchange of cuttings and a frenzy of planting. With this has grown a lore of garden plants. Seeing me work at planting a couple of headloads (Yes, I kid you not) of woody cuttings, a neighbour offered to help me dig.

‘Well, maybe the big hibiscus plants’ I told him gladly.

‘Oh, flowers? No, no..women should plant flowers. They desire flowers to adorn their hair with, and that desire makes them bloom faster’ he replied.

‘Grrnf’ I said, wielding the pick-axe again.

And the coconut tree is revered more than any other. Every atom of it is used, and traditional Konkan life would be impossible without it. When the priest delivered the tree, he also gave me a careful lesson in how to plant it. When Rajan came by to plant it (it requires a 1m deep hole, I did not volunteer), he added his advice. As the daughter of the house, I was required to actually do the planting with my hands. I noticed him silently pray to it as I did so, and realized afterwards that I had missed my cue to do the same.

For those who are interested, a coconut plant needs a hole that’s 1m by 1m and atleast the same deep- the deeper the better. On the downhill side of the planting hole, make a small horizontal tunnel sloping downwards; the roots rot quickly and drainage is essential. Place plenty of sea sand at the bottom; if not sure of where the sand is from, add a couple of handfuls of sea salt. Rotting leaves and fish heads are good too, but we didn’t have any of the latter. Cover with another layer of sand, place plant in, ensure it is vertical. Bed gently with soil till the coconut is covered, but no further. As the plant grows, the hole is filled in. This ensures a good length of root-bearing stem and consequently, a stable tree. In the photo, the hole is filled up, but that’s because we were planting out of season. In the monsoon, the hole would be filled with water and the plant would rot. Instead, we will be banking earth around the plant as it grows.

1 comment:

nadi said...

and maybe women should also be the ones to plant the crops because they desire to feed their babies and so on.
convenient superstition :)
no wonder you see the konkani man at least sometimes on a break- just chatting, sitting under a tree, but the women are always doing something