An experience of a kind,
from the comforts of the living room
to the hot oil palm estates,
a startling one!
I flew to Malaysia
a decade back
to participate in a festival
God willed it otherwise
I am deep into business
full time as much.
Teluk Intan.the town, where I am,
is commended as the best zone
for oil palm cultivation
having fertile black alluvial soil
most suitable for palms.
I, in my new role, as a planter,
wear big estate boots
don a straw hat and grab
a walking stick to support me
in case, I slip on the marshy tract
with packed lunch, all arrangements pacca.
I start my first day’s work
the trees, tall almost 40 feet
fruits, big weighing 50 kilos
a massiveness in all
surroundings inordinately hot
possessed by a silence,
deadly silence, fearful.
Awesome and amazing on one side
uncomfortable and stuffy on the other
Gosh! I sweat in and out.
the palms release excess humidity
adding to the global warming
My journey has begun
before I could come to terms
a visit to the estates turns compulsory
every fifteenth day, I mark my attendance,
not for the sake but in earnest.
I supervise the harvest
learn to speak a few words in Malay
boleh, pegi, mana, makan
(can, go, where, food)
address the workers as cawan
meaning my good friend.
Harvesting is done with long rods
could be lengthened and shortened
according to the tree’s height.
A sickle is attached to the rod
a sharp cut on the exact spot
and a heavy pull brings the fruit down
it falls with a huge noise.- thud
the heart jumps out.
A novice I am, as seen in an incident
being engrossed in foreseeing the harvest
failed to notice the fall of a fruit
I was fortunately pushed aside by one of the harvesters
but for that, my head would have been
and my brains would have jutted out.
with a wheelbarrow
pick the fruits with ease
pile them in heaps
at a vantage point in each row.
I go behind each harvester
talk in bahasa Melayu
ini, ini, buah, buah I shout
pointing to the fruits they have missed
he nods and says boleh .
I order the pickers to collect
the loose berries lying around
call out to them sini mari la[/i
funny to see me turn into
a hard task master.
It is the way I learnt
it is how I live today.
behind the harvesters
between the rows of [i]kelapa sawit
beneath the trees
with the orangutans and snakes
I walk past the rows briskly
a leech (attai) clings to my sari
crawls stealthily in
clings to my calf muscles
I shout with pain,
try to seize it
it stuck even more steadfast
sucked the blood through
fell down dead soon after.
I cried ayyaaoo ayaaooo in pain
excruciating it was, my eyes well
the harvester smiled all knowingly
said to me gently, with a concern
puan, tidak much untuk menjadi seorang penanam kelapa sawit
“it is not easy to be a planter.”