The art of breaking a coconut! (or the lack of it)


Today morning, I had woken up early and cut some red ‘cheera’ (a form of spinach) from our terrace garden, fresh and crisp. I came down and saw Annu standing in an unusual position in the living room carpet (bum in the air, head on the ground, hands on her neck) I ran to see if she had sprained her neck or something, but she was only doing ‘yoga’ watching a cartoon channel that was on. ( Ok.. well then yoga at 4, I think I should take a cue there) 😀

I went to the kitchen, the pigeons were cooo-coooing on the work area half wall, sunlight was playing in beautifully through the netted window and tea was brewing in the pot. The house was already awake, I would hear chants from the pooja room where father in law was doing his morning pooja and the whole house was in ‘dhoop’ from the agarbhattis and it smelled nice. I had seen the husband sitting sleepy-eyed and turning the pages of the newspaper.

It was a beautiful morning and I switched on the little radio in the kitchen and got about cutting the spinach, once that was done, I put it in the kadai on the range after tempered  some mustard seeds and a few dried red chillies in virgin coconut oil. Next, I opened the fridge to take out the coconut to grind for the filling. And I froze, there was no broken coconut! I had seen a half coconut last night sitting boldly on the top rack of the fridge but that was missing now. Then I remembered that breakfast was already on the dining table and the half coconut had turned into a red chutney garnished with curry leaves! Now what do I do :/ :/ :/

If you ask me what is the most humiliating thing that has ever happened to me I would say it is the ritual of breaking open a coconut! No kidding, it is the most embarrassing thing that I have to do because always, well always, always I fail! The damn thing would never break. And I would be left to stand like I had the most toughest job in the world which only a brave-heart can attempt and succeed. And the task when others do it looks so easy. And yet I am never able to master the technique.In the past there has even been instances at Edapally ganapathy temple when the coconut I had tried to break hitting on the stone had come bouncing back. And I had thought that it was just one-off incidents. Guess it’s not!

So what? you may ask.You see live in Kerala, the state which itself is named after Kera or coconut. And Kerala cuisine always revolves around coconut, we use it for breakfast to add a little fluffiness to puttu (rice cake), or idiyappam, or coconut milk is used for appams or as chutney with dosa or idly. For lunch again there is the thoran which is stir fried vegetables to which ground coconut with a little cumin and chillies are added. And how can you forget the delectable avail? Or Kalan, or kuttukari or…oh please its might as well we eat raw coconut for lunch! Then there is the dinner which might have vegetable kuruma or strew which should have coconut milk! And all this needs coconut. And I can’t break a coconut! Arggghh 😦 😦

The first few years after marriage and till recently breaking a coconut was not even a problem in my life ( no one cooks in their mother’s house right) as we had a couple of maids who took care of all that. But lately both of them have left (one was too old to walk and other fell sick) and me and my mother in law has taken over the kitchen( well she was always there, I am the only new addition). And I came face to face with the coconut for the first time like a few months back. There are some things in life, when your eyes fall on it you get a vibe that this relation is never going to work out, and the coconut must have been surely one of that.

She had shown me the trick to break it

‘Press your finger firmly on one of its ‘good eye’ and ‘break” she had said. I tried, I pressed my finger firmly on one of its 3 eyes and struck it – nothing happened. I tried again, this time with more force not even a crack. I tried a third time, still nothing. She took it from me and struck it – BAM, and it split open; just like that in one go!’ Wow’, I had said, looking at her with new-found admiration, she gave it to me without a trace of emotion and went along with other chores.

That was 3 months back and technically I should have been an expert by now. But surprisingly I am not . I have tried to break 9 coconuts in the time frame, (yes I have counted,) and I have not even made a crack so far! I felt miserable. I even called up my mother secretly in between my 3rd failed attempt and asked her how to do it. She sounded shocked when she knew how inadequate I was –‘What, you still don’t know how to do it?what have you learnt in life so far?(a lot other things than breaking a coconut mamma). But she did give me some pearls of wisdom “put the coconut in some water for some time, it should be easy then’ she had said. I have done that. Nothing happened. I failed the 4th attempt with flying colors too.

So that was my history with coconuts and today was going to be my 10th attempt. Imagining all that and a never-dying optimism and  much anticipation I found a coconut from the coconut sack in the work area. The pigeons looked at me with interest and I in turn stood looking at the coconut in hand with arched eyebrows and scratching my hair (that’s just for added effect) I took it to the sink and found the sieve and do the whole process I am taught – press the eye, find the point think and strike nothing, I try again – nothing and again – nothing! With every strike I feel the house is becoming more silent and people are hearing my failed attempts – in the house, next house and on the road. Arghhh…I am going into a brain freeze. I put down the coconut and look at it clenching my hands.My palms feel clumsy, I felt my pressure  shooting up! Can a coconut actually make you feel like this? I walked to the room where the husband was sitting and ask him with a coy smile. ‘Hey can you break that coconut for me’? He grins at me wickedly ‘ No, I am going to get ready for work’ and he walks out just like that happy to get even with me at least for something.  😦 😦

I go back to the kitchen, rub my eyebrows and take up the task again, I strike again another 3 times, the stubborn thing not even budge a little. “Not able to break the coconut’? comes father in laws voice from the pooja room. Perfect, now the whole world knows! Now I have to break it somehow,it has become a prestige issue. I strike again, this time with a little less effect hoping no one hears it. No avail. Annu comes wandering into the kitchen dragging her teddy bear, guess her yoga time is over. ‘Amme, what are you doing, you mandi (fool) you still can’t break a coconut?hahaha. She laughs longer than needed on my face  and goes back to find her Garfield and peanut comics in the Kochi times. The radio goes abuzz and starts making weird noises. ‘Ya you too laugh’, I thinking looking at it.I guess  It is one of those days when your daily horoscope says samayanastam, manahani (time waste, humiliation)!!

The spinach is almost cooked now. And before I resume my never say die attitude with striking the coconut again,thankfully, mother in law appears from somewhere and walks into the kitchen and silently take the coconut from my hand and strikes it once – BAM and it cracks open. Not a word is spoken, I guess she is resigned to the fact . So with 10 failed attempts and a morning full of manahani, I wish I was born in a country where there were no coconuts. Olives maybe? 😀 😀


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