Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Today I am very much reminded of Govindan. Govindan was the one who came to Lakshmi Nivas once a month to bring down the coconuts from the tall palms.

This morning at Raji’s place, instead of Govindan, Ezhumalai(in picture) was the one who climbed up the two coconut palms to bring the coconuts down. And that too, after being called on his cell phone more than once. This Ezhumalai charged Rs. 60 per tree – that means Rs. 120 just to climb up the two trees, and cut down the coconuts.

The Govindan I am talking about charged only one anna, or 6 paise per tree in the 1940s. (Sixteen annas made up a rupee). There were about 20 palms in the compound of Lakshmi Nivas. Govindan would come once a month about 8 am, and wait outside till my mother was free to talk to him. If any of us children saw him, we would shout out to my mother that the ‘thengai parakkaravan’ (coconut plucker) had come. Hearing us once, he said, “Kochammai,(Little Miss) I have a name, and it is Govindan, and Amma knows me.” After that, I would always refer to him by name.

Govindan was a thin, wiry fellow, with alert eyes and a ready subservient smile. One should have seen him, clambering up the coconut tree, with the help of his two hands and his feet tucked in a tight ring made of coconut fibre, faster than a monkey.

Climbing up 20 trees, and bringing down the 500 to 600 coconuts, cleaning the top of every single tree, weeding and cleaning the base of every tree, and sorting out the dried, cut foliage was his job. From 8 in the morning he would be really busy for four or five hours. The maximum money he earned was only Rs. One and a half, and two coconuts. My mother would also give him a large tumbler of sambharam ( salted buttermilk with curry leaves) and a spoonful of pickles for which he used to be very grateful. Compare that Rs. One and a half with the Rs. 60 per tree of today.

In a few years’ time Govindan’s son was year junior to my nephew in the Engineering College, Trivandrum. So Govindan was the last of his ilk.

Our family tailor Hariharan was a regular visitor to our place to take clothes to be stitched, starting from my father’s trousers and shorts, to pillowcases. His son did not continue his father’s profession. He was my nephew’s classmate in the Engineering College. Our laundry man Ponnan’s son also studied in the same college.

So one sees that by 1960, the trend in lifestyle was changing. In fact, today there is a shortage of coconut climbers, even in Kerala. I remember having read that in Kerala they have opened an institute to teach how to climb coconut tree, and to how to take care of them.

I remember very well my mother’s ‘Jeeves’ of those days. He was there to see all sorts of odd jobs outside the house – like going to the market, taking care of the cows’ feed, taking care of my father’s clothes and so on. His name was Ramakrishna Pillai. My mother used to call him by his full name at least 10 times a day. But she never used to utter my father’s name – Ramakrishna Iyer. We found it funny and we used to tease her a lot about it.

This Jeeves was paid only Rs. 5 per month, and daily lunch. Our maid Kunjhi, used to come every morning at 5.30 or 6. She would be busy till noon. cleaning the compound on all sides of the house, cleaning the rooms inside the house, doing the dishes, and washing the clothes. Then she would come again in the evening to sweep the house and clean the vessels. She was paid only Rs. 5 per month and was give coffee twice and the left over food every day. Today Raji’s maid (see picture) earns nearly Rs. 5,000, working in more than two houses and cleaning a couple of shops. And does not do as much as Kunji used to in any of the house.

A single rupee had more value in those days. Even Rs. 100 of today, does not have that much value. Times and people have changed, and will go on changing.