Wendell Rodricks is someone I have not met. Nor do too many of us know much about him as a fashion designer. And yet, the news of his passing on Wednesday left me sad.
The only connect was a short essay by him.
A few years ago, I had reviewed a book “Chillies and Porridge: Writing Food”, a compilation of essays on food, edited by Mita Kapur. One of them was a simple and touching six page piece that Rodricks had written on his Tia Rosa – aunt Rose.
It was an essay that one could not forget—not the writer, nor his aunt. It was powerful in its simplicity, and moving as it came from the designer’s heart.
Rodricks describes the advantages of living across the road where Tia Rosa lived, as he pays tributes to the lady from whom he had learnt everything that would years later define him. The essay is set in his mind as his favourite aunt lay in her coffin.
“The biggest was that Tia Rosa taught me to love the colours, the aromas, the textures that resided in her kitchen, in her hands and in her wondrous mind. What was impressive is how she created fusion food long before the word was made fashionable by chefs around the world. Her favourite word was ‘blend’. Followed by ‘with imagination’.
“Long before I applied those words of wisdom to clothes, I learnt the basics from humble kitchen ingredients”, Rodricks wrote.
His aunt was a lone spinster, her husband was the kitchen and the apron her bridal dress, he described.
There was always some innovation with every preparation.
In that essay, Rodricks stood out as an extremely sensitive human being who learnt his fashion sensibility, and a million other things, from what he saw around him, from those who told him little things—and one of those was Tia Rosa.
“Now, my child, this is the regular recipe. What do you want to add to it? “asks Tia.
Young Rodricks scratches his mop of hair, his chin resting at the level of the pink-veined marble kitchen top.
“Why don’t we add you to the recipe?” he replied, winking at her.
“Excellent idea! Go to the garden and bring two pink roses from near the hibiscus shrub” In went the pale pink, perfumed rose petals.
Writes the late fashion designer: “That night, Tia Rosa said a special ‘Grace before Meals’, extolling the virtues of my creativity with the dessert. I was in rapture at the end of the meal when everyone commented that the rose petals perfumed the golden jelly, but did not overpower the taste of the coconut. Subtlety was a key ingredient I had learnt from my aunt”.
A poignant and unforgettable para read: "And now, as she lay in her coffin, I began to think up what I could do to make her look special. In the garden I fashioned blood red roses into a small heart and placed the wreath on her chest. In that dim salon, the red glowed and seemed to have a heartbeat of its own each time the candles flickered around the coffin".
Rest in peace, Wendell Rodricks.