In the quaint bookstore, Literati, in Calangute, Goa-based designer Wendell Rodricks meets Varsha Naik to discuss his writing and latest book Poskem: Goans in the Shadows
Storytelling is not new to Wendell Rodricks, who has told stories on the ramp for years through his clothes. “Through fashion I recounted the lives of Isadora Duncan, the Byzantine Empress Theadora, Reincarnation in Buddhism, Shiva Temples, the Turkish Harem,” he says. And though he has authored two books already, Moda Goa: History and Style, and The Green Room, his latest was inspired by a promise.
At the coffin of a Poskem, Rosa, living opposite his house in Colvale, Wendell promised to tell her story and the story of many other Poskim who were side-lined by the community. Poor children were adopted into rich Goan households and given the family name, but treated as no more than bonded labourers, relegated to the backs of houses, mostly to kitchens, often abused physically and sexually and served the families their entire lives with no rights to marriage, property or basic human decency.
Weaving a tale
While the story of one strata of society treating another as less than them is not new in India and internationally, Wendell wrote the book as it was an important story to throw light on. “In Goa, we gave them a name. To my knowledge, this hasn’t happened anywhere else in the world. Atrocities like these were committed elsewhere as well, but were never given a public, known word to identify these people as other, and that is what is so disgraceful,” hesays. Even if the family that took in a Poskem (female) or Posko (male) treated them well, the villages they lived in held strong to that difference, upholding and validating the existence of Poskim (plural for the community).
In the book, Wendell says, three of the characters lead happy lives, and one has a tragic and painful life. “I didn’t want to make it a very dark narrative, but in actuality it would have been the other way around, with three stories ending badly and one being good.” This is not to take away from two of the characters besides Alda, the main heroine so to say of the book; they too endure hardships that determine where their lives lead them.
The hardest part, Wendell says were the four intimate scenes in the book, which were all vital to the story. “I touched on topics like social scandal, incest, sodomy, perversion because these happened in Goa. No one wants to talk about it but these unsavoury events happened. As a designer, I ensure that my fashion addresses an international audience. I knew this book would open a door about Poskim. I did not approach the book from a parochial stance. I wanted an audience that was Goan, Indian and international,” he says.
Drawing a connect
His biggest challenge while writing was to connect the story of the four main characters into a fluid narrative. The fact that multiple languages feature in the book added to the complexity, and Wendell took the aid of his Portuguese teacher Ismenia da Veiga Continho who is also fluent in French and Konkani scholar Damodar Mauzo while writing. He explains, “I did not want to dwell on the visual descriptions of life in Goa as it was interfering in the emotion and flow in the book. That is when I thought of getting Habiba Miranda to give me permission to use Mario’s illustrations. They provide the beauty that the book needed.”
Many readers have expressed that they wished Wendell had spent more time of the history of Poskim and made the book for in-depth, but he says, “I wouldn’t change a word in the manuscript. Those who feel the topic is worthy of a lengthy, in-depth study, should research more and write a thesis. I said so myself. I hope a young student takes up the topic of the Poskim as a PhD subject. This is a work of fiction based on a tradition. I kept my premise to the story line and the four characters.”
When he was writing, many people told Wendell he was going to bring shame to Goans. He found it amusing that they were defensive, and distanced themselves from the tradition. “It was laughable that North Goa people said there were more Poskim in South Goa and South Goans said the reverse. I have a bit of a problem with people saying we’ve never had Poskim in our family. Over generations it may have been there, but even now that the Poskim are dead they don’t want to admit it could have happened in their families.”
The land of my birth
Weaving the essence of Goa and India into this work, be it fashion or books, is a core ideology for Wendell. He shares a story. “I had a beautiful portfolio of sketches and designs but a lady at Yves Saint Laurent asked me why my state and country were not in my sketches. I was so ashamed. I came back on August 15, 1988, and vowed I would always put Goa and India in my clothes,” he recalls.
Translating the sea breeze and the foam into clothing is very hard, because it’s all abstract. “At that time there were only two aesthetics being translated – The Maharajah feel with brocade and crystals, the other the hippie kitsch Goan aesthetic with bright colours and bling. The third narrative was lying there hidden waiting to be explored – the calm of South Indian Temples, yoga, ayurveda, Gandhism. So I introduced minimalism in India, resort wear because I was living in Goa and eco-friendly clothes because I was living so close to nature,” he says.
Wendell’s next book will be a colouring book on the history of Goa. “I’m going to draw the history of Goa in a cartoon-style like Asterix. Children who don’t read much nowadays, will read it. So that every single child of Goa can learn about their history,” is what he hopes.
Wendell and Books
– Non-fiction – mostly history, biographies and every single book on Goa
– Love Garcia Marquez for his magical realism – his settings are Goan in flavour even though they are based in Colombia.
– Reads three books at a time – one at home, one to learn and one while travelling.
– At the moment I am reading The Rajah of Bhopal by Michel de Grece, A Frayed History: The Journey of Cotton in India by Meena Menon and Uzramma
– When I travel next week Armenia: The Legend of being, about the art and history of Armenia.
A book to understand Goa in greater light
– Inside Goa by Manohar Malgaonkar illustrated by Mario Miranda is one of my favourites for its prose and visual content