Men and women of all ages consume it with equal proclivity
Bastard sago tree or fishtail palm (jeelugu) is nothing less than a boon for the tribals in many habitations. The jeelugu kallu (toddy) brewed from the trees, which are usually seen only in the wilds, is a supplementary income source for many cash-strapped tribesmen in the hamlets such as Chaparai, Gurtedu and Kanivada.
The tribals — Kondareddis — trek down long distances, some times more than 10 km, to reach santa (weekly shandy) to buy their requirements where they sell the toddy. The tribals and the people from the plains alike make a beeline to the tapper at the shandy. It is widely available in shops in tribal habitations.
Men and women of all ages consume it with equal proclivity. Some consume it for intoxication and some as a medicine. It helps improve digestion and pregnant women believe it helps improve the baby’s complexion.
“The tribals have a unique way of consuming the jeelugu kallu. They warm it before consuming it. Probably, it is the only toddy which is consumed thus,” says Raja Reddy, a local.
But he has no answer why warm toddy is preferred. Neither the sellers like Chitreddi do. “People like it that way,” laughs Chitreddi.
The heady stuff, prepared from February onwards, commands a good market. The tapper pockets ₹500 per 20 litres, but toddy shops in the tribal belt charge anywhere close to ₹1000 for the same. The tribals try to sell their produce at any price by noon. The traders from the plains also try to make a quick buck.
“We know that there is a demand for the jeelugu kallu. We have to buy the essential commodities for a week ahead with whatever we earn from its sale. So we sell at cheap price sometimes,” says Palala Somi Reddy. Generally, it is sold between February and June. The non-tribals show little interest after June or the onset of monsoon.