The king had just named himself emperor. He had just vanquished his neighbour in battle, annexed a portion of his territory, so why ever not? Emperor!! He wore a cloak of immortality, nevertheless there was this vast emptiness in his soul and gradually he was horrified to discover that he was bored. One morning, the king ordered, “Amuse me, I am the king of the land of coconuts.”
The assembled courtiers looked at each other, their minds working furiously.
A ‘firangi’, a Frenchman and general in the king’s army was the first to speak “Coconuts were named thus by Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores sire. Far from, apparently, the brown and fibrous surface of mature Coconuts reminded them of a bogeyman from their childhood fear. An Iberian bogeyman colloquially referred to as ‘El Coco’, a hairy monster that hid beneath the beds of children and ate those who misbehaved.“
“Very interesting general. I grant you a hundred gold sovereigns. We are pleased.” Said the king.
The Vizier, not one to let a firangi upstage him, said “You are the master of all the coconut trees in the realm sire. The coconut tree is found in most regions of your kingdom and it is a Kalpavriksha, referred to as the tree of life because every bit of the coconut is used. Every part useful to us in one way or another. Also a wish-fulfilling tree. Durvasa and Adi Shankaracharya meditated under a Kalpavriksha. Ashokasundari, the daughter of Shiva and Parvati, was born beneath a Kalpavriksha tree. Another daughter Aranyani was also gifted to a Kalpavriksha. Your wish is my command sir.”
Even though the king was often suspicious of his Vazir’s intentions, he was pleased enough by his erudition to offer him a hundred sovereigns as well.
“Only a monarch such as your exalted highness could possess such a bounteous fruit. The coconut water inside the nut is a delicious drink. In dried form, from its copra oil is extracted. The husk, named coir, is used to make rope. Leaves are used to make roofs of huts, fans, mats. Palm sugar is made from budding flowers. The dried midrib is used to make boats.” Said another fawning courtier.
The king was visibly pleased. Yes, indeed, how many other monarchs could boast of such wealth? “I would tone down the flattery if I were you. We are however very pleased. We gift you a handsome white horse.”
“Coconuts are a source of health and nourishment.” Said the court physician “We can produce the drink, food, fuel, utensils and the uses for the coconut tree seems almost endless. There are so many health benefits of using coconut from the coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut water, coconut flour. Let that a look at some of the health benefits that you can gain from using coconut.”
“Thank you, I have learnt much today Vaidyar. We grant you two handsome horses.”
A courtesan, currently out of favour with the king seized her opportunity now “I use coconut oil daily on my skin as a moisturizer, I use it to bake, and cook, I use it for oral health.” She said, in a husky seductive voice.
“You will visit me in my chamber tonight.”
The court philosopher who was prone to bouts of melancholy, especially when listening to fawning courtiers, had by now a dark cloud of morbid thoughts hovering over his head. Circumspection gave way to impulse and he burst out “ Your Highness, what use your wealth and pomp, your territory, your soldiers, all these fawning sycophants when a single coconut dropping from a tree your head could kill you?”
A collective gasp filled the court and voices buzzed, some wailed.
“Take his head off!” screamed the monarch. “How dare you!”
Terrified, the philosopher looked at the assembled congregation for a glimmer of hope and only saw hatred and resentment. The king’s bodyguard put quickly put the philosopher in chains and threw him into a dungeon.
At dawn, a few days later, at a time deemed appropriate by the court astrologer, the king spat into a gold spittoon and the philosopher was beheaded.
Carpeted by seemingly never-ending expanses of coconut trees, Kerala (Keralam in Malayalam) takes its name from the tree – ‘Kera’ meaning coconut and ‘alam’ meaning ‘Land of Coconut Trees”. Copra and Coir are also words derived from Malayalam. A finally, the inimitable flavours of Kerala cuisine draw sustenance from being cooked in coconut oil and milk.