It is a sweet, touching story in Thamizh, albeit sad.
There was once a parrot which sat on a tree and watched its blossoms turn into shining green fruits. The parrot waited and waited for them to ripen to take its first bite from the fruits. Alas, the fruits never turned yellow or red, but dried into brown crisp pods, finally bursting and revealing inside – white inedible cotton.
This tree in the story is called the ‘ilavan’ tree and the cotton is called ‘ilavan panju’ – what I am told is the silk cotton. The unfruitful wait of the parrot gave rise to the phrase in Thamizh ‘ilavu katha kili’ – the parrot that waited in vain.
The tree is found abundantly in our neighbourhood – my brother-in-law next door has one in his compound. I had to cross one of these on the pavement, (no doubt planted at the same time as the one-day blooming tree outside our house) when I walked to work, and I watched it grow from a sapling to a young tree, though I did not realise then that it was the cotton tree. As it grew I noticed that its trunk and branches were green, and at first I imagined that someone might have painted them in that vivid shade. Later I realised as it grew higher that it is the natural colour of the tree.
Somehow I never saw the flowers – maybe I did not look carefully enough at the right time. The green pods are rather longish like bananas and shiny. They dry on the tree, and fall off often bursting only upon falling.
Now is the time/season they start falling. People like this lady collect the pods, and remove the cotton. I asked her what she would do with it, and she said she was planning to stuff a pillow.
Sweet silk-cotton dreams.