POSKEM: Renowned fashion guru and passionate foodie Wendell Rodricks’ latest book `Poskem: Goans in the Shadows’ was released at a glamour-packed function at the Taj Vivanta in Panaji on July 17, 2017, followed by a specially designed high tea
LAST week definitely belonged to Goa’s celebrated “Guru of Minimalism” in haute couture, Wendell Rodricks. His third and latest book titled “Poskem: Goans in the Shadows” exposes the truth about yesteryear Goa’s colonial feudal past. These were no hunky dory times, not for the Goans who were dismissed as “poskem” in derogatory terms (like they had any control over their fate or kismet).
I like to think that when the truth is bitter there is a need to dress it up and who better than a sensitive, creative person like Wendell Rodricks to do it with gossamer-thin bitter-sweetness. “Poskem” was released with lots of limelight in the presence of Goa’s crème de la crème at the Taj Vivanta on July 17, 2017. Not surprisingly there were many glamorous folk on and off stage — Maria Goretti, Vijaya and Pratapsingh Rane, Om Publications’ Ajay Mago, Damodar Mauzo, Alexyz, Jerome Marrel to name just a few.AST week definitely belonged to Goa’s celebrated “Guru of Minimalism” in haute couture, Wendell Rodricks. His third and latest book titled “Poskem: Goans in the Shadows” exposes the truth about yesteryear Goa’s colonial feudal past. These were no hunky dory times, not for the Goans who were dismissed as “poskem” in derogatory terms (like they had any control over their fate or kismet).
Suddenly Wendell’s novel or fiction (as it is listed) has become the talk of the town because of the subject matter of his book. Goa is a small place (an original Peyton’s Place, as Mario da Miranda once called it, where everyone more or less knows everyone — especially amongst the rich and beautiful)! Poskem is a minimalistic novel in paperback (economically priced at `300). It’s also heavily illustrated every other page with Mario da Miranda’s black and white sketches and caricatures of Goan society… and Wendell weaves his stories through flights of surrealism which leave a trail of more questions than answers.
With a matching Prologue and Epilogue the jigsaw puzzle falls more or less into place. Here are the stories of Alda, Liana, Nascimento and Sita (I won’t give away too much because I want you to read the book, my dears; every Goan must read it) and their lives and times in Portuguese-era Goa, which evoke some powerful feelings.
Funny, at the function, with all the foodie talk around me for a little while I wondered if Wendell Rodricks’ new book was more cookbook than fiction! Then later I realized that the detailed recipes are really a brilliant analogy inherent in the stories he is recounting in his book. Hey, what better analogy then food to take the heat off the heart of the book — which, interestingly, is by way of an apology by Wendell Rodrigues to all the “poskem” of yesteryear Goa.
The stories came together courtesy his own memoirs and allied stories as they were recounted to him. He disarmingly acknowledged that his book is not about some great research (so don’t go nitpicking please)! Let’s say they’re just complex stories told simply with engaging charm….”poskem,” my dears, is about the orphans, legitimate or illegitimate, who for some tragic reason or another lost their parents early in life. Since this was feudal agricultural Goa, they were adopted by wealthy Goan households as free labour and very often abused sexually (in exchange for food and shelter of course, and little else but a life of anguish and misery).
So it is really to the big-time Goan Hindu and Goan Catholic bhatkar families of times gone by that we owe this book. Like I said it reads a bit like a jigsaw puzzle at first, but read carefully anew and here are some real life stories which need to be told for us to realize how really lucky and blessed we are in our times. Bravo to Wendell for confessing to the fact that his was one family where there were poskem or poskim. These were the gallant niz Goenkars, the village folk — mostly tenants or mundkar women and children — who even as they toiled to keep the fires burning in their landlord’s palatial and extravagantly decorated interiors were abused and humiliated, very rarely rewarded.
MY friend Fernanda Gracias, present at the function along with hubby Dr Carmo Gracias, confided, “Most of the mundkar families of the village thought it was some kind of a privilege to be of service to their landlord (they were mai-baap to them, good, bad, ugly)…” From the sound of it all these adopted poskim (usually orphaned children of illegitimate or mixed marriages or relationships between native Goans and Portuguese) didn’t really have much of a choice but to go along with whatever demands were made on them. And so what if the process the landlord told one of his estate gaonkar, “Ah, you have a strong young pretty daughter…why don’t you send her up to the house to do some work for me?”
Pretty young mundkars’ wives and daughters were useful for labour and sexual exploitation by various members of a landlord’s family! Remember those were days of no family planning, my dears, and so there were bound to be “poskem” or “poskim” — can’t remember which is singular and which plural. The word has ambiguous notes although Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo, who was one of the speakers at the function, said the root word “posko” comes from the Sanskrit to Konkani vocabulary and generally refers to someone “adopted” by a family.
Read the book! I’m not surprised it’s raking up a lot of interest, for the stories are all part and parcel of Goa’s colonial times which shape the Goan psyche. After all Goa has a complex history. Came the Portuguese conquest, came the conversions, and many things changed. It impacted life in both Hindu and Catholic households. Wealthy, arrogant bhatkar families played godfather to their humble, of modest means mundkar or village folk… and a lot was taken for granted.
Our friend Wendell Rodricks gives us a glimpse of all this in his book. It makes for valuable education for our times, as offers some tempting recipes alongside to take a break to think it over. Fact is there’s so more to Goa’s history than one may have imagined and dismissed lightly, and the bailem Goan that I am — I once thought Hindu Goa has little in common with Catholic Goa! After reading Wendell Rodricks “Poskem” I’ve changed my mind. Hindu Goa and Catholic Goa are irrevocably, symbiotically linked together by a common history which has left a mark on both.
“Poskem” is being discussed hotly in Goa these days! Everyone who is anyone is asking, who are these families who adopted and exploited their poskem? Well, do your own guesswork, my dears, Goa’s a small state. But if you ask me it’s not important. On that note take a bow my dear Wendell Rodricks, and it is avjo, poite verem, selamat datang, au revoir arriverdecci and vachun yeta here for now.
— Mme Butterly
An excerpt from Wendal Rodricks’ “Poskem: Goans in the Shadows”…
“Mama Annie was the first person to notice that Alda’s breasts had become more rounded, her hips a bit wider, and the bouts of morning sickness. She watched horrified as the kouso (brass pot) used to draw the water, entered Alda’s body. She kept her children and husband away from this awful secret by making dresses that Alda floated in. Mama Annie saw the love and lust in her son Mauricio’s eyes. She sent him away on a ship to live with her cousin in London. Alda was lost without her beloved Mauricio. She began to hate Mama Annie. Mama Annie’s eyes turned from sky grey to devil red. Her fingers became claws of the leopard that roamed the village. Her neat hair bun became the wild tresses of the Goddess in the nearby temple. All the while, this demon watched over Alda.
When her waters broke, the demon took Alda to the kitchen and locked the doors. She put a kitchen napkin in her mouth so that the house would not awake with the screams of Alda’s throes. When the infant opened its eyes and she saw the grey in them, Mama Annie filled a copper water basin with warm water. She placed the fair baby boy inside and pushed its little body into the warm water till she saw the trail of bubbles from the nostril disappear. Then she wrapped the child in a small sheet, dragged her feet to the far corner of the estate where she had dug a hole (“to plant a coconut tree” she told Damu, the village gardener and fruit plucker) two weeks earlier. Throwing the bundle into the earth, Mama Annie shoveled the mud over as Alda watched through the trees, blood trailing down her thighs, the napkin long removed but no sound emerging from her stunned mind. She watched and shuddered in an overwhelming sorrow as her baby boy Solomon was covered in layers of red laterite Goan earth.
That was the day Alda entered the wonderful world of insanity. They began to call her Pishem Poskem.”