Title: Poskem: Goans in the Shadows
Author: Wendell Rodricks
Publisher: Om Books International
Pages: 277; Price: Rs 295
Two main images are conjured for people when they think of Goa; quiet beaches and relaxation, or crazy nights of drinking and partying. It’s like we’ve forgotten the Goans who are from this land, with their own history, traditions and culture. Wendell Rodrick’s Poskem: Goans in the Shadows tells a story of one of Goa’s more shameful traditions that has since died out — the servitude of unwanted children. The word poskim (plural) is translated from Konkani as ‘adopted’ but evolved to refer to young children who are taken in and raised by wealthy families. They were mainly regarded as servants with no inheritance rights or privileges, and were treated differently from legitimate children of the household. This book is Rodricks’ endeavour to ensure the poskim of Goa are not forgotten as we move forward and his delivery of an apology for a lifetime of suffering and stifled voices that’s been a long time coming.
Wendell opens with setting a scene at the Mapusa Friday Market, where four characters are introduced so us, and to each other, with just a hint of their personalities coming through. Through his narrative — the incidents he tells us are true retold with certain creative licence — we meet these four protagonists and learn their stories. He includes illustrations by Mario Miranda in the book; a delightful touch in this otherwise somber tale. The imagery helps paint a picture of quintessential Goa of the times the story is set in.
Alda is the most intense character of the lot, dark and mystical which helps her cope with the atrocities committed against her. Hardened by the cruelty she has endured, she conjures spells and her only friends are birds and animals who do her bidding and bring solace to her broken heart. Liana is an effervescent and loving woman, brought up by a loving family and as such has not seen too much suffering in her life which she spends between Goa and Lisbon. Nascimento is a renowned chef who has worked his way up and due to the circumstances of his life, is wholly committed to his kitchen and creating magic with food. Sita forced to flee her home in Goa, grows up in Poona, discovering her true roots and rather complicated relationships. As she begins to delve deeper into her origins, she provides the link between the four protagonists that ties their stories up neatly in an engaging and surprising tale. Wendell writes in a style that I particularly enjoy — where each chapter is about one character — which I find appealing when there are several characters and all have equal weight age.
I don’t recommend reading this book on an empty stomach as a large part of it focuses on Goans and their love for food and its interpretations. Unlike the usual format of reading recipes, Wendell’s approach feels like mom talking you through the steps over the phone. Food is a common strand that binds the four poskim, which reflects life as it were in Goa at the time when poskim were often good cooks and bundled off into kitchens. Though I was tempted to try a few recipes myself, by the end of the book I realized that my love for good food cannot motivate me to do the hard work for it. I will, however, always appreciate someone who puts their heart into cooking and feeds me. Just saying.
The second stylistic feature I enjoyed in this book comes at the very end; the repetition of the prologue as the epilogue with just two sentences added. You may think it is lazy writing, but it a masterstroke; the effect of which will only be fully realized when you read the book. It sums up the entire story and weaves the threads together into a moving image of this now-extinct Goan way of life, of a group of people trying to find where they truly belong.