Poskem: Wendell Rodricks draws attention to grim Goan tradition
It is tough to imagine Wendell Rodricks, the fashion designer, in any less-glamourous setting than of glitzy celebrity-filled ramp-walk galas.
A Padma Shri awardee and noted activist for social causes, Wendell might not be as well-known yet as a journalist, researcher, chronicler and anthropologist.
But his new book, Poskem — Goans in the Shadows, set to be launched in Chennai this week, ought to change that, as it presents an uncommonly compassionate and sensitive side to the man.
To be certain, Wendell’s a fine storyteller, and not just with cutting-edge weaves and designs.
Goa save the child
Elegantly written, Poskem has nothing to do with haute couture and the trendsetting dernier cri of the season. Be forewarned — this is no glossy coffee-table book. Rather, it’s a revelatory story of the last generation of Poskim in Goa.
The word ‘Poskem’ (pronounced ‘poskay’) is Konkani for ‘adopted child’, a derogatory reference for abandoned children adopted by well-off families to work as household helps. “Please note, the plural is ‘Poskim’. ‘Poskem’ is feminine singular, and ‘Posko’ is male singular,” notes Wendell in an email exchange.
In many cases, the Poskim are considered a part of the family, he points out. Yet, the Poskim seem to have a stronger sense of identity, which they’re now grappling to regain a hold of.
“Goans know about the Poskim, but they don’t want to talk about their human rights for the most part,” discloses Wendell. “The book addresses the issue of how many Poskim are used as a labour force with no family benefits apart from the family name,” he explains.
Wendell happens to be an active historian of Goa, where he’s based, having already written a book on Goan heritage, history and style (Moda Goa), apart from contributing to art and travel journals, and even dabbling in food writing, divulging a taste for Goan cuisine.
Poskem has its fair share of treats, some with detailed recipes, of preparations such as brinjal pickle, balchão (tangy prawn preparation), carrot and tendli (ivy gourd) pickle, apart from staples like daal (lentils) and cumin-stuffed ladies fingers.
Material world spirits
“Poskem is my third book,” notes Wendell. “It will always be special for many reasons: the topic it deals with, the illustrations by the late Mario Miranda, the cover by (photographer) Pallon Daruwala, my editor Dipa Chaudhri, and the fact that this is my first fiction story with an attempt at magic realism.” The aspect of magic realism, he explains, reflects the ambience at a friend’s home in Mandrem, where he started writing Poskem.
The book is indeed rife with Goan flavour, referencing food, and the language — ‘bhars’ (spirits), ‘rakhondar’ (good village spirit), and ‘devnsars’ (mischievous spirits).
In one segment Wendell writes, “Goa’s supernatural world is deeply ingrained in the psyche of simple villagers, urban intellectuals and sometimes ‘encountered’ by tourists. A result of a pagan past over many thousands of years, blending myth, religion and races, Goans have learnt to live with the spirits.”
The designer draws from personal experiences, hearsay and legends to stitch a narrative that spans the Portuguese rule in Goa, up to its post-Liberation period.
The structure is unique too, as it tells the parallel stories of four former Poskem — Alda, Liana, Nascimento and Sita. The designer alerts readers that the book opens up a Pandora’s box of shameful secrets to ‘India’s sunshine state’.
Real history, real people
His aim, ultimately, is to put an end to the tradition of employing Poskim, says the designer. “The book has created awareness,” he informs. “Young Goans are now openly discussing a topic their parents did not talk about,” he says.
“Some thought Poskim were offsprings of Goans and Black slaves. Untrue. I’m glad I wrote Poskem, as it created a massive debate in Goa, and raised awareness about the Poskim,” he says.
Visually, the book is a delight in the cartoons of Mario. “Apart from the cover that lends an impression of a wealthy Goan home, the illustrations perfectly capture the ambience of the story line,” he points out. “I did not describe the villages and cities in detail on purpose. Mario’s illustrations fill the void brilliantly.”
Poskem thus stops short of ending up as a ponderous, gloomy account. Wendell is adept at threading anecdotes, dialogues and conversation, to create an atmosphere as enlivening as that of Goa’s.
The book reveals his eye for detail, and penchant for droll humour — all set amidst life in the former Portuguese colony. As a reader, you’re never allowed to stray far from an idyllic beachside backdrop, even while learning more about Goa’s social constructs.
“History tends to look at grand events, great people, victors and royal monuments. Anthropology goes deeper into the lives of people,” offers the designer. “Anthropology for me is real history about real people,” he asserts. Quite simply, there’s no way of cloaking some truths in a different garb.
Om Books, `295. Prakriti Foundation will host the launch of Poskem — Goans in the Shadows at Folly, Amethyst, on November 10, 7 pm. Details: 8608685156