Remembering Wendell Rodricks, Our Rainbow Warrior
What can I write about a dear friend who left us so suddenly, a friend with whom I interacted over email just a week ago… to hear about his passing away was so shocking, and so so painful because he was such a gem of a person who left us too soon.
My association with Wendell began in 2012 when we approached him to be the judge for the poster contest we were launching at KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. He readily agreed, and to our great surprise even offered to sponsor a cash award for the same. That was the kind of generosity he exuded – he never thought a minute before offering anything, same as his decision to offer his own home to make it into a museum.
He is one of the most gracious hosts I have ever met – preparing the most amazing food, caring for me as I’m a vegetarian, offering his home for me to come and stay. Jerome his partner was so sweet and caring towards Wendell, it was an inspiration to me to be able to live like that with my partner.
Over the years, since 2012, my interactions changed from a professional one to a personal one when he invited me to visit his home in Goa. He is one of the most gracious hosts I have ever met – preparing the most amazing food, caring for me as I’m a vegetarian, offering his home for me to come and stay. Jerome his partner was so sweet and caring towards Wendell, it was an inspiration to me to be able to live like that with my partner. They offered major relationship goals to me and Saagar, who celebrated our own 25 years of togetherness recently in December. While Jerome and Wendell were married in France, myself and my partner are still waiting for legal changes in India.
Wendell was an inspiration in many ways – through living life as an openly gay man, being the first ever gay man in India to be awarded the Padma Shri in 2014 for his pioneering work in fashion.
The same year in 2014 when we were planning to institute the Rainbow Warrior Award for the first time at KASHISH, there was no better person we could think of than Wendell Rodricks to receive the award, along with the first out gay man in India Ashok Row Kavi. While Wendell couldn’t attend the award ceremony, he sent a beautiful message of acceptance from Bhutan, “My dear friends, from over the rainbow in Bhutan, I send you my best wishes. I regret that I am not with you all this evening to celebrate the closing ceremony of what has been a celebratory week of LGBT cinema from around the world. This year 2014 has truly begun as a year for the LGBT community in India. Despite the Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377, the transgender community got sexual status recognition, a bearded drag queen won the Eurovision contest in the face of much opposition from regressive Russia and here at home an openly gay man received the Padma Shri. And now you give me this award. How honoured and happy am I! Thank you everyone at KASHISH. More power to us all. More peace, freedom and equality in India and the world around us. Soldier on. Stay happy and gay!’’
Later he sent this beautiful photograph of him with the trophy which is something we treasure greatly at KASHISH.
He was the Closing Night guest of honour at KASHISH 2019 in June and once again spoke up for the rights of LGBTQ individuals, “The victory in getting rid of section 377 is a time to celebrate, but also a time to move ahead. It has been a long time we all have struggled and come far from where we have started. It is time to stop getting traumatized with what people say. It is time to celebrate and look forward to a new India”.
I met him last in November 2019 when I was in Goa for the Film Bazaar, and Wendell threw a special pool party to welcome me and some of my international friends. He was his usual humble self, and not only served us with amazing food, but also sang a song, playing the guitar. Oh, now how I wish I had recorded that song to add to the treasure of memories that I have gathered of Wendell that will always remain with us forever.
Sadly he couldn’t live to see his dream of Moda Goa Museum be completed, displaying over 800 artefacts from the 7th century AD till present date. He was supervising the work at the museum till the very last day, evident from his last Instagram post “@modagoamuseum final plastering at work”
He will continue to inspire us with his life, words and the legacy he has left behind, and will give an entire generation of LGBTQ youth hope to come out and live openly with dignity.
(Sridhar Rangayan is an award winning filmmaker and founder festival director of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival)
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