The cold drink display in Whole Foods is in the very front of the store and impossible to ignore if one has one’s eyes open. There must be half a dozen different bottles and cans, all beautifully, shinily designed, of coconut water. Every time I see these my memory zooms me around the world.
My first stop is an ancient city in South India in 1990, when my Mom and Dad and I were re-visiting old haunts for sentimental reasons. We had endured a wild taxi ride to Mahabalipurim, complete with the cab breaking down in 100 degree heat and 100% humidity. We had finally made it and though the giant Buddhas called, we were so thirsty that we could barely walk. And there, like a mirage, was a young girl walking towards us with fresh coconuts. We squatted on the edge of the road and poured the juice from those coconuts down our throats and all over our faces. It never felt so marvelous to be sticky. We three grinned and laughed at each other and then Dad stood up and said ‘Right! Let’s go visit the Buddhas!”
The second place that I fly to is a village on the outskirts of Madurai at dusk in 1964. We had been invited to visit because my father’s work, through a local college, involved a program of teaching the villagers to resist the temptation to sell their rice fields for bags of gold, as wealthy developers were trying to buy up the farmlands and destroy their livelihoods. A theater group from the college was getting ready to perform a skit to demonstrate this swindling and provide options to the villagers, while we sat in a circle waiting. Water buffalo and men strolled in from the fields, the moon was full. It was hot and still and in the shadows the village women came bringing fresh coconuts for us all to drink. We drank and passed, drank and passed round the circle in silence, waiting and being together.
The third place that I beam to is Sri Lanka, which was called Ceylon then, in 1957. We had only recently arrived. My sister and I had done our writing for the day, and were now supposed to nap. We went out on the verandah and saw a young boy climbing up a giant coconut palm. Shinnying up like a monkey, with a knife in his teeth. We watched him go from down below us to way above. With wide eyes and itching legs we were dying to do what he was doing. Then he took his knife and swat swat swat, down fell a heap of coconuts. He climbed down quickly, and in his beautiful dark brown skin, the whites of his eyes and sparkling teeth smiled up at us as he held up the coconuts and nodded. We looked at each other and scampered downstairs like little mice and the boy handed us our first fresh coconuts, the top hacked, and we all drank.
No bottle, no can, no matter what they say or how colorful they are, compare in any way to any one of those coconuts. But I do succomb anyway.
I sit and sip through a straw, in Venice, California, 2010, refreshed and happy.