Being a south Indian and a Tambrahm at that, coconuts were always a part of my existence. My earliest memories of this wonder ‘nut’ is the time when an aunt or grandma would sit down with a bottle of coconut oil and all of us cousins would line up to have our hair combed and neatly plaited. The ritual of applying coconut oil and plaiting the hair of 8 to 10 girls would be followed by application of coconut oil and combing the closely cropped hair of our male cousins. As a child I thought it to be old fashioned to have so much oil applied to our scalp and tried to coax my mother to have my hair trimmed and permed or curled but she would have “none of such nonsense with hair falling over the forehead” and I have to thank her for her effort and the gift of the lovely long hair that I once possessed.
Coconut oil served to help me bond with my hostel mates when I had to join a boarding school at the age of twelve. I was a stranger in a hostel where a good number of students were Anglo Indians. Having left home I was a total misfit in the hostel. Among the toilet items that my mother had packed for me was a bottle of scented coconut oil that had frozen in the cool weather of the Nilgiris. I was trying to scoop out a little with a spoon when a voice behind me said-
It was my good friend Irene Trencher who had given the suggestion thereby offering to make me comfortable in an alien situation. Others followed and soon at least 10 of them borrowed my scented coconut oil to apply on their hands and legs and my mother was at a loss to understand how a bottle of coconut oil could get over in a month’s time. The warden had to intervene and take the oil bottle in her custody till I felt comfortable enough to say NO to friends who took advantage of my insecurity.
When my daughter was born my mother took the trouble of extracting coconut milk from home grown coconuts and clarifying it like butter and filtering pure coconut oil to give my daughter a body massage. The smell of home made coconut oil was heavenly and my daughter’s skin acquired a natural glow on account of it. She made sure that I brought back a bottle of coconut oil thus prepared and used it exclusively for massaging the child’s body to make sure that her skin did not crack in the winter months.
Apart from external application coconuts are generously used in Tambrahm/Kerala cuisine since it has the property of curing stomach ulcers and is a rich source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. And who can deny that coconut water is the safest soft drink from God’s own factory!!