Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saying goodbye to my friend Victor Ramraj


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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

What great memories of a beautiful friendship, Ken. Thank you for sharing this. I know how difficult it is to say goodbye to someone who has ahead a long-time home in your heart. Keep your memories close. - Kate Rowland

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this news. I was a student of his and to say he influenced me is an understatement. It's actually hard to comprehend. He was one of the only professors I ever had that made me feel intelligent and that my opinions mattered, that what he said mattered. He was kind, soft-spoken, and so well-versed in his field. I will miss him and am sad I never got to say good bye properly. Thank you so much for sharing this. He was a great man. - Jt

Novels said...

I deeply regret missing Victor's service, I looked all week for an obituary and couldn't find anything. He was a genuinely good man and family friend that helped us with everything.

Leslie Selvon


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ken. Victor was an encouraging and enthusiastic influence on me and many others when we were young graduate students attending conferences with Victor in the early 1990s, when he was editor of ARIEL and then president of CACLALS. He was always good company and helped me get established as a young scholar, which I'll never forget. He will be missed by many of us in the postcolonial and CanLit fields. -- John Ball