M. Ramesh might laugh if he's asked to wear a harness. He risks life and limb daily –  on average, over 50 times every day – to bring down palm fruit and coconuts from the trees. He lives in Sivaganga, among Tamil Nadu's most water-starved districts. Palm and coconut trees flourish here, and the sweet water of their fruit is a quencher in the summer months. When I met Ramesh in June 2014, he nimbly climbed several trees, taking no more than a minute to shin up the tallest, spikiest bark. He was dressed simply in a folded-up lungi and a shirt. 

On top, he balanced his bare feet delicately between the great leaves. And using a sickle freshly sharpened on the tree’s bark, he chopped the fruits and nuts and tossed them down. From below, his  grandfather shouted out instructions to him to rip out the dry fronds. So Ramesh went from treetop to treetop and took them down with a strike or three.

Back on the ground he told me that he had no formal training in tree climbing; he was a natural. It brought him modest returns, and he supplemented these with a little farming. Like many rural youngsters of his region, he catches bulls at the jallikattu (bull-taming) events. But unlike the others, he is also an ace snake-catcher and a hunter, taking off in the night with his desi dog, to round up hares. 

Do watch this little clip where Ramesh makes climbing a tall, swaying palm tree look as easy as clambering up a staircase.

Aparna Karthikeyan
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Aparna Karthikeyan is an independent multimedia journalist. She documents the vanishing livelihoods of rural Tamil Nadu and volunteers with the People's Archive of Rural India.

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