It was a coconut tree that was lovingly planted by my late grandmother decades ago. Back then, Chennai was not choc-a-bloc with houses and with the plot behind our house being vacant it didn’t matter if our tree was close to the compound wall. The tree grew really tall and as was natural to it sought the sunlight. It yielded a decent amount of coconuts which were more than we could consume. So after giving away a few to the staff, the remainder was donated to the Ganesha temple. The only problem with the tree was that although a large part of the trunk and the base was in my house the branches and the top were literally grazing against the high-rise that had come up next door.
One person who helped look after the tree was Poongavanam, the coconut tree climber. A real rustic, he was always bare-chested and clad in a lungi with all the accessories slung over his shoulder. He would visit us periodically, trim all the drying branches, pluck the coconuts and administer some of his medicine. Recently, Poongavanam didn’t show up for three months. Being a specialised skill, there were few who could substitute him. Other coconut tree climbers had their own turf. After launching a manhunt for Poongavanam we found him. He had been down with chikungunya and promised to visit soon.
Meanwhile, during one of those squally depressions a coconut fell on the windshield of the car belonging to one of the residents in the apartment next door. Within minutes two of the residents landed at our doorstep and demanded that the coconut tree be cut. Had Poongavanam plucked the coconuts at regular intervals this could have been avoided. Sentimentally, one had reservations about cutting down a coconut tree. I asked for a couple of days to think it over. The neighbours would have none of it—sentiment or no sentiment—the tree had to go they insisted. I asked around if a net could be fixed which could collect all the fruits when they ripened. I also toyed with the option of transplanting the tree. That would be a long-term solution and would not take care of the immediate problem.
I was also concerned about coconuts falling on human beings and injuring them. Time was running out. Poongavanam was contacted. His team arrived early one Saturday morning. A piece of camphor was lit and a prayer said. One member of the team effortlessly scaled the tree and plucked all the coconuts. Then he slid down a bit and sawed the trunk. It gave way and landed with a giant thud. The ground shook furiously. And then one more length was sawed and all that was left was a stump in place of the majestic tree. The branches were cut and loaded into a truck. A sense of loss engulfed me. A living tree was gone. Though it hurt I thought about what might happen if the coconuts had injured human beings. I had to let go. The tree’s time had come.