Earlier this month at King’s College in Nova Scotia, one of my grad-student writers, a woman who had spent some years in Kenya, pointed to a passage in one of my Arctic books and said: “Did you study postcolonial theory?” I took a beat and said, “No, but you’re right. The influence is there. My best friend is a leading postcolonial thinker.”
I was speaking of Dr. Victor Ramraj, a renowned scholar originally from
Guyana. He spent the past four decades as an English professor at the University of Calgary. His books include Concert of Voices and an early study of Mordecai Richler.
Today, in Calgary, I served as a pallbearer at Vic’s funeral. His death was unexpected. He died suddenly at his home last Monday night.
The dean of arts at U of C rightly described Vic as a “distinguished expert in postcolonial studies and Canadian literature” who was “internationally recognized,” and whose round-the-world ramblings found him giving a state lecture in Guyana last June. Sponsored by the prime minister of that country, it focused on and celebrated the work of Alice Munro.
I myself attended plenary lectures Vic gave at literary conferences in Canberra, Australia, and Colombo, Sri Lanka. The latter featured a focus on Caribbean writer Sam Selvon, and Vic got me included by publishing a piece I wrote on Selvon in the literary magazine he edited for years, called ARIEL.
To tell the truth, ours was a four-way friendship, Vic and Ruby, Ken and Sheena. After those conferences, we rambled around Australia and Sri Lanka. We hung out, as well, in Singapore, where “young Vic” was a law professor on his way to becoming head of the law faculty at the University of Victoria.
The photos here, with Sheena behind the camera, find Vic and Ruby in Dawson City, Yukon. They came for a visit during my stint as the Berton House writer-in-residence. I gave Vic a scare by falsely claiming, after he left, that I had finally downed a Sourtoe Cocktail after all, and had the paper to prove it.
Ah, but the Perhentian Islands off the northeast coast of Malaysia. They are magical, but so difficult to reach that we thought Vic and Ruby would never manage to join us there. I vividly remember my joyful astonishment when they arrived, with Vic hauling a small, wheeled bag determinedly through the sand. That night, at the only outdoor pub serving alcohol, we sat under a canopy of stars laughing and talking and knew we would remember this moment forever.
We kept in touch after Sheena and I moved back east, though not as closely as we should have. In Halifax recently, while reading back issues of the London Review of Books, I came across a piece on Derek Walcott, a favorite of Vic’s. When I got home to the Centre of the Universe, first thing I did was pop it in the mail with a short note.
Today, Ruby told me that mine was the last letter Vic received. He read her passages from the article and pronounced it, “Not bad.” That piece was sitting on his night table when he passed. I don’t know why, exactly, but I feel good about that.