Story Collected by Akhila Gopal
Kalpavriksha. In my native language, Kannada, the name that some use for the banana plant translates directly to “the mother of all”; that from which so much can be harvested, used, and replenished. Though most people in the United States are only familiar with the ripened fruit of the plant, bright yellow and sold in bunches, there is a lot more that the banana tree has to offer.
The soft inner bark of the tree is used in salads and curries, the unripe fruit can be boiled or fried, and the flower is so delicious that it considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands. But to me, it is the banana leaf that holds the most importance.
The leaf of the banana is a symbol of festivities, because during a time of celebration people are served food onto a banana leaf. More than being just a biodegradable plate, the chemical composition of the banana leaf make using it as a plate, a wonderful experience. The surface is waxy, allowing oilier and wetter foods to sit on the leaf without leaking through. The slick surface also allows the person eating to clean and wipe off their plates. There are certain chemicals and oils in the leaf itself that infuse into the food and enhance its taste. When eating off a banana leaf, using utensils are difficult and unnecessary. By eating with our hands, we are able to have a more sensory eating experience- smelling the aroma, seeing the components, feeling the texture, and finally tasting it. Being able to have this experience with what goes into our bodies creates connection and a realization that what we are putting into our bodies is important, and that we should look after ourselves more carefully.
However, the human race is known to be selfish, known to only look after ourselves and push the rest of the world’s species aside. The banana leaf, however, caters not only to us, but to other animals as well. I remember every time I would visit India and a festival would be had, we would sit in long lines on the floor with our banana leaves in front of us, waiting for the food to be served so we could dig in. And once we were done eating, the leaves would be collected and given to the cows because banana leaves is one of their favorite things to eat. The positive symbiotic relationship that is created between the banana plant, the cows, and humans, is how every relationship between a human and the environment should be.
It is a common fact in today’s world that humans are harming the planet, destroying the habitats and endangering thousands of species. But no matter the subject or specimen, one thing is always found in common between us and everything else. The underlying theme to how life works is that every structure has a unique function. The compilation of the functions carried out leads to a collective action, and those actions are what allow us, and the organisms of the world, to live. However, as the world as progressed and dived deeper into technology, we seemed to have lost the ability to utilize the structures and functions of some things due to lack of convenience or relevance. The banana tree is one such example—it has the tremendous potential for its structures to sustain different aspects of the world, but is not given as much of a chance to function that way anymore. With Mother’s day having been just a few weeks ago, maybe we should all try appreciating not only our biological mothers, but also “the mother of all”, the banana tree.