From the time I remember, nungu has been an integral part of my life; it is our family business. I grew up surrounded by mounds of brown-black nungu and pale green palm fronds. My grandfather, father and three annas, all do this work. I first sliced a nungu when I was 12 years old. I would shave off just the top and give it to people who would manually scoop out with their fingers the two or three fruits it held. Then, I learnt to wield the aruvaal with dexterity and speed, and remove the heart-shaped fruit delicately without the water running out.
I learnt everything I know from my appa. “Kannula paarthadha kai seyyum”. We hail from Tirunelveli district and I dropped out of school in Class 8. Now, my life revolves around the seasons. For nine months, through the sweltering heat of the summer, across regions, I cut nungus and sell padhaneer for a living. The remaining three, I take up construction work whenever I feel like.
Every year, we travel extensively. From Kodaikanal and Ooty to Thoothukudi and Sivakasi, I travel with my family to cut nungu. Every morning, we leave ouor home in Velanthavalam at 5.30 and head to farms in Pollachi and Kozhinjampara to buy nungu.
We bring it in a tempo and split the lot among ourselves. While coming, we also pack along some cooling padhaneer. It’s become very popular among people these days. I love it too, and take a swig or two once in a while.
The job of a nungu seller calls for hard work. In the early days, my hands would pain all the time and also develop blisters. Now, I’ve got used to it. Even now, on busy days, I feel a dull ache. But, I ignore it; only then can we see some money. If it rains, our business is completely washed away.
The only disadvantage of my job is that, I’ve lost interest in eating nungu, a fruit I used to love. I pop one into my mouth very rarely. What does nungu mean to me? “Everything. My life, my profession. It is like biting into a sweet, chilled apple with an incredible-tasting juice.”
(Manikandan works at Mayilkal)