Saturday, October 1, 2011

Learning from a Nut-Plucker.....

This is Alagan Subramaniam [Subra];  descendents of South Indians brought to work in the Tea Gardens by the Colonial British. He is from the seventh generation and  is now a Sri Lankan national.
Subra lives in a state owned estate in Walahanduwa Galle, where his parents, grandparents his siblings all worked, tending the tea and rubber gardens. He does not work in the estate any more but his wife Jayarani does, so they could still live in the abodes of the plantation.
Subra finds work outside which is more paying; the hard earned money is required to school his four children. "Educating the kids is my priority", he says. He feels the deprivation, as he's never been to school and cannot read or write.
His know-how in tending tea gardens from ground preparation to planting, pruning to manure application and harvesting is a complete package, learnt from his grandpa and papa. This he duly markets to the small home garden tea planter, that earn him a considerable sum for a month over and above what he would earn in the estate. His occasional assignments, plucking coconuts in small plots are more lucrative he says as he is paid per tree.
He is my visiting gardener and trusted caretaker in my long absences from home. His monthly services in my home garden includes plucking the three coconut trees. I am self sufficient with coconuts.  One day he tells me that come nine months from now, I would have to buy my coconut outside. I was curious of his prediction and inquired how on earth could you tell something happening in nine months to come. He then tells me that once the coconut flower blooms out, off the pod-case it takes one full year [12 months] to ripen.
I ask him if somebody told him so, to which he answers No…….. And my daughter who was then a second year science undergraduate confirms that the visual development of the coconut through pollination etc takes one full year. Furthermore the non-visible development within the crown of the palm had taken a full year as well. That is a nut that we consume has a development stage of two years. This is what she learnt at school and Uni.

Stamp depicting the King coconut
Going back to Subra; He tells me he was so curious to know its development and decided to learn the hard away. Yes the hard way …..He watched for a flower to bloom out off the pod-case on a palm in his garden and tied a trimming of cloth round it and noted the date. He then monitored the progress. Month by month the lower palm fronds would wilt and fall and the palm gained height and in the process his marked bunch was aging and entered the lower tiers of the crown and finally harvested in 12 months.
And now for his prediction;....... my tree has had two wilted flowers as a result of a long drought with minimal rain and he calculated the loss based on the age of the other bunches on the 12 month cycle and predicted what was to come in nine months.
He was deprived of school but his urge to knowledge made him experiment and learn for sure. I get the feeling that this was how the hunter-gatherer was to learn about the plants that he domesticated to become a farmer.
We seem to take for granted, what we learn at school. We hardly put them to use or question ourselves.
I am sure there are many more Subramaniams experimenting life this way, having  missed school; and what more when education is given free in this country.

1 comment:

  1. Tamils are a quite an intelligent race.There's a lot we "Sinhalease" can learn from them.Fascinating post.