As Rajani B T takes her tree-climbing gear and walks to a coconut tree in a wooded area in Kochi, she says, “Listen to the crows.” They are cawing incessantly. “They know that I am about to climb a tree and they’re scared that I’ll remove their nest.”
At the treetop, she says, there are also nests of pigeons and rats. “The landlord will tell me to destroy them,” says Rajani. “But I never do that. I don’t want to get the curses of these creatures. I live in a rented house so I know the feeling of being uprooted.”
She begins to climb. Because she is a woman, she attracts a curious crowd of onlookers. “If the trunk is straight, I’ll take two minutes to reach the top,” says Rajani. “But if it is bent, then I have to stop, adjust the settings on my climbing gear, and then move on.”
For her, the trees have emotions. “It is difficult to believe, but trees respond to what we say,” she says. “Like us, they also crave love and affection. If the coconuts have not been plucked for three to four months, the tree feels sad.”
Apart from cutting coconuts, Rajani removes old branches, diseased fibres and unhealthy coconuts. “If there is one bad coconut, it will affect the health of the others,” she says. “That’s why it is important to take it out.”
On a good day, Rajani climbs 12 to 20 trees, some which are 30 feet high. The work is physically demanding. “You need courage and plenty of energy,” says this mother of two. “I lost 10 kg over the past two years. It is healthy too. I don’t have diabetes, cholesterol or high blood pressure.”
She says that it is difficult to climb the trees in the monsoons because of gale-like winds and heavy rain, which make the trees sway dangerously.
Rajani’s life changed when she saw an advertisement in a local newspaper: the Coconut Development Board (CDB) was offering a seven-day training programme called ‘Friends of Coconut Trees’ at Thrissur.
“The aim was to address the acute shortage of tree climbers,” says Mini Mathew, Publicity Officer of CDB. “Owing to the hardship and risks, the younger generation is reluctant to do this traditional job. In four years, we have trained 42,385 people. We need a lot of climbers because the annual production of coconuts is 24 million,” Mini adds.
Thanks to the training, Rajani is earning well. “I hope other women will feel inspired to follow me,” Rajani says.