The Green Room
Raintree (by Rupa Publications)
356 pages | Hardcover
I was expecting The Green Room to be a glimpse into the inner world of the fashion industry. The book has that, of course, but it is more an autobiography of designer Wendell Rodricks. The Green Room begins with a prologue, a peek into the chaos and excitement backstage, just before a fashion show begins.
Then, Wendell takes us to Goa, where it all began. The story of his forefathers blends seamlessly into his own, in Bombay. The book is a detailed chronological narrative of Wendell’s life. From his birth in a hospital in Bombay, we are introduced to his family and the convoluted, entertaining stories of their lives, growing up in a chawl in Mahim. Wendell’s life changes course, when, after a stint at the Taj in Bombay, he takes up a job in Oman, working at The Royal Oman Police Officers’ Club. We are then taken headlong into his story of love, as he meets Jerome and discovers a new world, where the finer things in life are enjoyed everyday.
And so it is that this book also turns into a travelogue where Wendell catalogues their many trips to exotic and luxurious destinations around the world. His memory for detail is impressive. Menus, clothes and little nuggets of information about the places he has been to and the people he met along the way flood the pages. It is a lot to take in a first reading!
Wendell’s prose, however, makes up for it. It flows like his garments, unhindered. The inside look at the fashion industry begins to happen once Wendell returns to Bombay and starts a career as a teacher and designer. His move to Goa (at a time when Goa was still just your aunty’s hometown and not the to-go-to place for anyone who could afford a plane ticket), the story of the house at Colvale and setting up a business in the state are entertaining (perhaps because the settings are familiar to me). The Goan gossip is entertaining too – names of people we meet every day, friends and acquaintances – they all make an appearance.
Wendell is honest about his relationship with Jerome Marell and the impact it had on his family once he was ‘outed’ inadvertently through Shobhaa De’s column (following their PACS union in 2002). The family reacted badly, although the long-standing relationship (twenty-one years, by then) was no secret. It was the gossip and the reactions of other people that caused the friction (as it tends to do). It must have been a difficult time and this retelling offers yet another insight into a designer that we know so little of.
I love Wendell’s interpretation of the traditional Goan Kunbi sari and it is on my wish-list of things to own one day. Inspiring traditional weavers to take up their looms once again might be one of Wendell’s most significant achievements and I hope he can find the energy and the funds to sustain the project. I also want to reiterate Wendell’s long-standing commitment to the environment. His recent boycott of the Marriott hotel (Wendell has had a store in the Goa Marriott for years, which he has now shut) following the indictment of the mining families by the Shah Commission is praise-worthy. No one else of that celebrity stature has had the guts to do put their money where their criticism is. Go, Wendell.
A-rags-to-riches story, this book is lovely to read if you take the time to savour the little tales spread through the book. Rushing through the pages doesn’t give you a scale of his career, or his travels. It has been an interesting life for Wendell so far and one can only wish him luck for the future.