Poskem: Goans in the Shadows
By Wendell Rodricks.
Illustrated by Mario Miranda
Om Books International
Price: Rs 295
Where have all the Poskim gone?
“…Ten minutes later, Nascimento, Alda, Liana and Sita disappeared, like the fruits, milk, sugar and ice-cream in the blenders at Hanuman Soda…,” writes Wendell Rodricks in Poskem: Goans in the Shadows.
Poskim is plural for Poskem, and refers to Goa’s adopted children whom wealthy families took in—Nascimento, Alda, Liana, and Sita from Rodricks’ narrative, as well as Rosa, are among a disappearing line of adoptees who are granted a new life in this fascinating book.
It was at Rosa’s grave that Rodricks promised to tell the story of the Poskem. “Rosa was my neighbour across the street. The entire village knew she was a Poskem. But I befriended her, and we had a special friendship based on mutual respect,” says Rodricks. “When she passed away, I promised I would write a story about the Poskim people of Goa.”
Rodricks began writing Poskem on the Mandrem beach in Goa, in Florida, and in Paris at his home; he says he is now glad he wrote it.
As I revisit the pages of the novel, I am glad Rodricks chose a sensitive format of storytelling held together by timeless recipes and Mario Miranda’s illustrations to bring the reader face-to-face with the protagonists in the novel— the Poskim spirits past and ever present.
One wonders where Rodricks found the characters who now live beyond the pages of the book. “The characters were created by me,” says Wendell. “Their stories are not real but the events, every single one of them that impacted their lives was based on truth. When I fleshed out the characters, the more daunting task was to create the storyline and how I was going to bring them together to form a narrative. People in Goa were nervous as to what I would uncover about the ills that happened in Goan society. But eventually, they conceded that I wrote a balanced book as not all Poskim were treated badly.”
Having set out to bring the Poskim from under their shadows, Rodricks did receive some intriguing responses to his work. “The resistance and defensive tone of Goans when they first heard about the book….,” he says. “They made assumptions without even having read a page from the book. The most intriguing response was from a Poskem lady who wanted legal help to claim her name.”
And yet, Rodricks chose to bring Poskem to the world. “I did not want Goan’s around the world to forget about this tradition,” he says. “We are the last generation that interacted with the Poskim. I said to myself that if I don’t write this book, they will always be forgotten, and simply dismissed to a collective memory loss.”
The stylistics of this book rich with character, Miranda’s illustrations and recipes, does well to preserve the memory of the Poskim, even as Rodricks begins the narrative at the Friday Mapuca Market, and brings the story to a close at the same place. “I kept the suspense till the end. I wanted a sad ending as the lives of many Poskim were sad. But in Poskem, I only made Alda’s story into a life of misery. However, in the end, she triumphed over her situation. The others, too, had their own moments of despair,” explains Rodricks. “Lisa Ray, at the Bombay release, said it very well when she compared Poskem to life. She said our lives have ups and downs, moments of happiness and sorrow, success and disappointment. So in the final analysis Poskem is a metaphor for our lives, all our lives.”
In creating this metaphor, Rodricks wanted a racy, emotional pace. “I did not want to delve into descriptions of Goan homes, Panjim, Lisbon, etc. Mario Miranda’s illustrations did that descriptive job for me. So in many ways, they became an integral part of Poskem,” he says.
Poskem is very different from Rodricks’ other books as it is his first attempt at fiction, magic realism, and writing about a tradition against the backdrop of real Goan history. “After writing the book, I realised that most writers draw from some percentage of fact or personal experience to write a book. Truthfully, fiction is faction,” he says.
Rodricks goes on to appreciate the people who helped him bring this “faction” to the stands. “My agent Mita Kapur pitched the book at publications and we felt with my friendship with Ajay Mago at Om Books International, this would be a perfect fit. I am glad to have had Dipa Chaudhuri as editor. She did a stellar job. I also had to seek help from my Portuguese teacher Ismenia da Veiga Coutinho since the book has Portuguese and French words. Writer Damodar Mauzo helped with the Konkani words,” he says.
Poskem strives to preserve the disappearing Poskim, and I believe that the recipes Wendell has included here serve the same purpose. “The recipes are like my children. They are special, and I have not left out any secret ingredient nor procedure,” he says.
The secret ingredient to balancing his dual avatars as writer and designer lies in writing early mornings. “Very early as I have a parallel life to work in,” he says. “I write from 4 a.m. for two hours in a quiet ambience. I started writing as I had the document of Moda Goa, my first book. Later, with the Goa Writers throwing a challenge to write a book, I wrote my memoir The Green Room. Everything in my life has been a spontaneous journey. The same is true with writing.”
Rodricks is presently going through Michel de Grece’s The Rajah of Bourbon, rereading Chanel by Edmonde Charles Roux, and To Die For by Lucy Siegel. “Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a favourite. I feel he sets an almost Goan ambience even though I know he is writing about Colombia,” says Rodricks.
Besides reading, writing and illustrating, Wendell is presently working on a book for children on Goan history. “I am doing the drawings myself and writing the text. This will leave my handwriting and illustrations for posterity,” he says.
Meanwhile, in his campaign for saving the memory of the Poskim, Rodricks hopes for the reader to take away the lesson, that everyone should be treated equally. “They also take away the recipes and Mario Miranda’s fabulous illustrations. All this packaged in a beautiful cover shot by the talented Pallon Daruwala,” he says, signing off.