“Tell your friend that in her death, a part of you dies and goes with her. Wherever she goes, you also go. She will not be alone, nor will you.”
Virginia has slipped away without warning or saying goodbye. I am sure that she did not want to trouble anyone. She never ever troubled anyone, anytime, and yet all of us continuously burdened her with our troubles. She obliged, organised, assisted, worked her quiet magic to sort out our mistakes, managed our messes, ran our shows, listened to our outpourings, but took no credit for anything she accomplished. I thought then that Virginia was teaching us how to live, but now I see that she has taught us how to slip away too.
Yet, don’t for a moment imagine that her quiet professionalism and superb efficiency was the inevitable expression of a cold or formal soul. She was kind and unselfish in the extreme. Giving all she had, but extremely uncomfortable with receiving anything in return. Ivan told me, for instance, that not once during their marriage had she ever asked for anything for herself.
Virginia had an unfair advantage because she was one of that rare breed of people who are naturally, intrinsically good. That was her nature, that was her calling.
She smiled always. Even when she was under pressure, which was often our pressure that she had taken on. Every one of my outrageous demands she would meet with a smile and a solution. Questions like the following were par for the course. “Virginia, I am in trouble. I need the report I wrote about ten years ago, I think, which was on the Adivasis. It was not the one I wrote before that, and I think there were two other studies after it. It is not in the Adivasi folder because I accidentally deleted that last year, no? I need it so quickly it hurts, Virginia, and I have no hard copy even. Aiyyo, sorry to trouble you like this. How’s the family doing?” She would prepare me for the worst, of course, and then call me back the next day with the report duly found, and an apology for the delay. And, to my shame, this was an absurdly frequent occurrence even five years after she stopped working with me!
The best of us at the best of times strive to be good, sensitive, caring, and it’s a constant continuing effort marked by many lapses and worse. Virginia had an unfair advantage because she was one of that rare breed of people who are naturally, intrinsically good. That was her nature, that was her calling. She made all of us feel better about ourselves, listened to our woes, helped us fight our battles. Yet, who was there to fight hers? She bottled up her stresses, hid her pain, stomached her injustices, worried on her own. Panadols she took for every illness of the body, but the anxieties of her mind remained her secret to the end.
Virginia helped people, making it look like they were doing her a favour in seeking her assistance. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But those who knew her will understand exactly what I mean. She was warm, bubbly, generous and kind, but no pushover. I have brashly taught Ethics to hundreds of students, but many were the occasions that Virginia gently but firmly pointed out to me that what I was about to do about this or that was wrong. Her principles were clear and ironclad: not only did she not cut corners, when you were working with her it was impossible to do so yourself. The twinkle in her smile belied the strength of her will and the depth of her resolve.
Virginia was religious without the crutches of fanfare and ritual; she believed outside the narrowness of one exclusive faith, in her characeristically private way accommodating both her inherited and acquired convictions. Hence, I’m sure that Virginia has gone to a place where she cannot be touched by the mind-bogglingly petty officialese of the National Trust and its self-aggrandising minions; she is beyond the reach of the callous bureaucracy of the national hospital system and the untrammelled greed of its medical consultants. Wherever she is, I hope she is united with her beloved sisters and parents, as she continues to care and fret over her family, while being justly proud of theirachievements and fully reassured by their love.
Ivan, Shehan and Thevni will miss her in a million different unique ways throughout their lives. Bernie and a host of nephews and nieces will feel her irrevocable loss for years to come. Unrelated but indebted, our collective diminution is less immediately tangible and more difficult to characterise. Let me simply say, and hope that the simple truth can penetrate these clichés, throwing sharp new light on old words, that she was one of the most extraordinary and wonderful persons I have been privileged to know, whose values and ways have taught me so much, and whose memory I shall cherish always.