Everyone says they love Goa, but only Wendell Rodricks showed how

Updated: Feb 19, 2020, 18:51 IST | Heta Pandit | Mumbai

A Goan friend of the designer writes about how he championed the tiny state's heritage, folk traditions and environment among other things as he embraced its culture and its people

Wendell Rodricks
Wendell Rodricks

picHello Wendell, why is everybody being so funny about this? Why are they referring to you in the third person, as if you're not in the room? You're always going to be with us, you know, continuing your work, completing your half-sentences, carrying on about the cutting of trees and the loss of traditions. We are never going to be away from you, through the Goa you loved.

Yes, everybody and his or her brother-in-law say they love Goa. Only you showed us how to love and what to do about this love. How, despite busy schedules, trips abroad and creating imaginative concepts out of the wispy, salty air of your sandy land, you built castles, palaces and houses filled with memory. How, under the crunchy, deep red soil of Goa's earth, there was a deep-rooted love that grew and grew and grew and taught each one of us what it was to grow, to nurture love.

picI was on vacation in California when I got the news around 4 am. They say it's the best time for the Universe to help you skip town. When I shared this with my friend Annie Barker, she did not say a word. Comfort and condolences seemed so frivolous. So, Annie did what she does best. Without a word, she drove me to the Hindu Temple in Malibu for a few quiet moments with you, my friend. And I remembered how you always acknowledged your Hindu roots, your ancestry and explored your collective memory.

The next day, another friend had a trip planned to the Getty Villa, where I learnt that Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory) had together made nine daughters. These nine daughters are called Muses, the root of the word Museum. Your Museum MODA GOA came back to me and my brilliant nephew Siddharth gave me the list of the nine Muses, daughters of Memory and Zeus. Enterpe (Lyric), Erato (Music), Thalia (Comedy), Malpomene (Tragedy), Clio (History), Urania (Astronomy), Terpischore (Dance), Polyhymnia (Hymns) and Calliopa (Heroic).

Wendell Rodricks’s Goa home that is being turned into a museum
Wendell Rodricks's Goa home that is being turned into a museum

All the projects that you initiated or became part of incorporate all or each of these nine daughters.

You wrote beautifully and spoke like a poet. There was always something to learn from Wendell Rodricks. The last time I heard you speak, I learnt that, "Everybody will make a demand on your time… set your priorities right. Treat your time like you would a gold coin".

Both Jerome and you loved music. We met you at concerts, we touched hands and we let you be. In all the seriousness of environmental and heritage conservation, belting out against the powers that be on their insensitivity to Goa's natural and man-made heritage, you kept an eye out for the funny side of things. You joked about women's shapes, sizes and body types. If it had been anyone else, we would have been offended. Only, you could get away with it.

So, when and how did I first meet you? We were holding our first Goa Heritage Festival in Panaji, Goa and I wanted you to come and speak.

"Oh, I don't know anything about Goan heritage," you had said then. I had heard you talk about the cutting of trees, the lack of interest in preserving our houses and, most loudly of all, about the Gas Cylinder. Yes, the oil company that had sponsored a traffic island on the vantage point of our spectacular river Mandovi had had the temerity to put a giant cooking gas cylinder in the traffic island. "Talk about the Gas Cylinder, Wendell." And, you did.

And, I had converted a Christian! You never stopped talking. You never stopped becoming a champion of heritage conservation, folk traditions, environmental protection, its forests, rivers and gardens, its heritage homes and a hundred other things that helped us keep Goa as we know it and as we want it.

The loss of our traditional crafts such as the weaving of the kunbi sarees, painting on glass, jewellery, copper, brass and iron craftsmanship is one of our biggest tragedies. Your creation of Moda Goa, a museum as a crucible for the research and education about what we have lost, what we can revive and what we do with memory and history will itself go down in history.

You loved to dance and swung with every guest at your parties. You made us all feel special. Your work with the church in Goa and the LGBTQ community is a hymn in posterity. Your whole life's story has been nothing short of that a Hero of our times. Every breath you took, Wendell, we were watching you.

Heta Pandit is an independent writer and researcher on Goan heritage.

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