Before she got a break

Before she got a break

HUMOUR

Before she got a break

Breakfast called for coconut chutney. Filled with trepidation, I proceeded to the appointed corner to do the honours. The jitters had nothing to do with the recipe; it was the raw material — the ubiquitous nut — which unsettled me. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if a bead or two of sweat settled on the brow.

My mother had graciously imparted her culinary wisdom: "Always use fresh coconut and you can never go wrong with the dish." Having learnt well at her knee, I follow her dictum to a T.

However, I soon realised a gross negligence in her tutoring putting me to untold miseries. Growing up amidst coconut groves and a farming background, breaking coconuts came naturally to her. Sadly, being city-bred, I did not inherit the required DNA. The art escaped my syllabus, despite being a big fan of the fruit — right from its nascent water-reservoir stage to the mature oil. I still struggle to cope with the handicap and hence the duress.

My shortcoming went unnoticed prior to marriage as I was blissfully cocooned in parental care. As a new bride, I realised that coconuts would be haunting me for the rest of my life. They were often thrust into my delicate hands, to be broken at altars, ceremonies and rituals, or just when the fancy took them. In their zeal to strike deals with gods, I found myself in the position of the proverbial sacrificial goat.

Take satyanarayana puja, for example. Just as I was lulled into the mythological lore and warming up to the story-telling session, I would be blackmailed by the priest who would immediately dispatch me to break the official nut; else, season two would not be released! It was pretty harsh, you know?

Once the new-bride aura began diminishing, the coconut-breaking turned out to be quite an acid test, making or marring my reputation. Tongues began wagging about my prowess (rather, lack of it); many a times, I risked the welfare of the family by not doing it the auspicious way in a single blow or spilling the liquid, or as luck would have it, choosing a rotten egg (er, a rotten nut). I was soon tainting the name of my lineage. A few commiserated by blaming the education system which lacked in imparting basic life skills.

Much to my chagrin, the importance of the coconut in the local cuisine was obvious too. Coconuts were always round the corner, grinning at me with a challenge.

I tried hard at learning the skill, realising that it is no less than rocket science — ­starting from selecting to cracking it. Ever noticed a seller? In response to queer knocks on its head, the nut promptly replies in a strange language, giving an account of its inner vitality. Then the angling, the measured blow…

Upon careful observation, I ventured to test my knowledge... Leave alone two halves, the hit was so intense that it resulted in many pieces, the projectiles creating mayhem and leaving my hand throbbing. Reducing the force would just about crack the nut, jamming the skin of my fingers. I needed several blows to extricate my phalanges and also collect the pieces scattered all over. In desperation, I began putting my engineering skills to use and was almost on my way with a contraption, but desisted. The background risk of being institutionalised by my family loomed large. I had to let go grudgingly.

And, it is my earnest appeal that every Indian girl worth her salt, sugar or spice ought to receive a thorough schooling in the skilful art of breaking coconuts, for you never know when you will be asked to crack open one.

Relentlessly mastering the skill, I have belted a few eureka moments. This day saw just a single blood-curdling cry and after a phat... bam... thack... I proceeded to get the chutney going.
Susheela Srinivas

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