The Tell-Tale Coconut
Abhijit Kaushik is an Indicorps 2012 Fellow partnered with Sadhana, an NGO operating in Chamarajanagar district in Karnataka. Abhijit’s project is to create and execute a village development plan in Tavarekatte Mole, where he currently resides.
Nature. The word often brings up images of greenery and serenity. Things that are “natural” give us some inherent sense of security. Yet the modern world has grown far apart from natural solutions, and has substituted them with unnatural alternatives. In some instances, the natural itself has now been coined an “alternative” (you might have heard of “alternative” energy or “alternative” medicine). Yet in parts of rural India, the natural lifestyle has become a habit rather than a standard that people strive for. This natural lifestyle is such a deep-rooted part of life for these communities, and came about through taking advantage of readily available resources. I know this because of the first hand accounts I have had with coconut trees in Tavarekatte Mole, the rural community I live with in Chamarajanagar, India.
People in my community utilize every part of the coconut tree. The outer shell of a coconut is used to kindle a fire to heat up water for a bath. The fibers between the coconut shell and the coconut are used as a scrubber to wash dishes. The coconut kernel itself is used as food, and the coconut water is used to quench thirst. Oil extracted from the coconut is often used to maintain rich hair and for body massage. Furthermore, the coconut tree branches are used to build huts and serve as a weight to hold other home-building materials in place. Many people have their entire homes built out of coconut tree parts. In addition, dry coconut leaves are used to make floor sweepers for households. Every single part of the coconut tree is used.
One day my host family was looking to drill a bore well to extract water for their farm irrigation needs. They hired a bore well engineer; this engineer had never even entered college. He came to our farm with just one tool: a coconut. As he walked around the farm with just a coconut in the palm of his hand, I thought he was crazy. There is no way this man is about to find a water table with just a coconut, I thought. As he slowly paced back and forth, he eventually came to one point and stopped. “Look, young man” he said to me, “Look at the coconut.” The coconut suddenly started to move in his still hands. Defying gravity, the coconut that was laying horizontally on the palm of his hands slowly moved to an upright vertical position. “My friends, we have found a water table,” the village engineer asserted. I was dumbstruck. I literally could not believe what I had just witnessed. What a groovy little tool I thought.
With such simple natural resources, people in rural communities have been able to sustain themselves for thousands of generations. The coconut is just one example of the many natural solutions rural communities have come up with. But the question remains, why should we care about natural solutions? Does it really matter whether we use coconut oil to nurture our hair instead of Pantene Pro-V? While it is difficult to make generalizations, unnatural solutions do show a trend. Why do chemical fertilizers make land unfertile over time? Why do food preservatives have ill affects on health? Why does burning fossil fuels destroy the ozone layer? Perhaps we should take another look at the coconut lifestyle in my village for inspiration.