“Life and death take precedence over everything. Even sport.” So wrote Vinay Verma on The Roar on February 26. A few days later, he was gone. Whether it was prescience or accident, his words are painfully apt.
“The earth opened up in Christchurch and we were reminded how precious life is,” he wrote that day. “All these natural tragedies also showed the resilience and heroism of man. We learn to accept what we cannot control.”
It was a philosophical wander of the sort he so enjoyed. “I am afraid not many are going to get the underlying sentiment,” he emailed me after it was posted, “which is that life owes us nothing.” I said it was the best piece I had read from him. I didn’t expect it to be one of the last.
If life owes us nothing, we should be thankful that it gave us Vinay instead. I last saw him in December, deep in the heart of the MCG. As we watched the Test, drank a beer, and strolled out for a semi-illicit cigarette, he was in his element, his three favourite pastimes rolled into one.
From the window of the bar, the turf glowed rich green in the afternoon sun, and as Brett McKay and I sat with Vinay, I felt proud to be in the company of those I could consider colleagues and friends.
That was down to the man himself. As the more experienced writer, he had shown a particular interest in my output since I began with The Roar. We had a similar approach to words and to sport, each seeing something of himself in the other.
He read carefully, commented thoughtfully, and flew my flag in message board wars, bringing decorum to the internet as implausibly as a lone sheriff laying down the law in a far-flung bandit town.
Debates often spilled over into email, and it was a rare week without correspondence.
His was a philosophy based on fairness and generosity. It was evident in the simplest things, like the way that every comment on his articles received an individual answer. At the same time he was ever forthright, excoriating when he felt it due. There has been no more plainly-spoken critic of cricket’s administrative greed.
We also traded poems, having found that fans of cricket and of verse are often one and the same. Dennis Silk wrote of building his friendship with Siegfried Sassoon on a shared love of these two pastimes, and while neither Vinay nor I held pretensions to matching either gentleman in either pursuit, a lineage is there.
The death of a man of Vinay’s age may not qualify as a shock, but it was one all the same. He was a picture of rude health – a bearish man with a bright smile and a propensity to laughter.
He looked to be enjoying life’s pleasures and thriving on them. If health had been an issue, he showed no sign.
There is a terrible mundanity to death. Rare are the dramatic, adrenaline-fuelled ends from inane films or Christchurch news reports. Most people slip away within the span of an ordinary day, while the rest of us drink coffee, file papers, drive kids home from school.
It is a measure of our humble standing that the world does not stop for us, nor even blink.
When I heard the news on Monday morning, I was about to get into a shower. My phone beeped and I turned back to check the message. I sat for a moment, turning it over in my mind.
But the water was still running…and in the end, numbed, I stepped into the cubicle. Vinay had said that we learn to accept what we cannot control. My friend had gone, and control over that could not have been further from my power.
The simple work of life, meantime, goes on. It was only much later that my thoughts had settled enough to sit and write these words.
Once it had sunk in, one part of that message even made me smile. Vinay, the biggest cricket tragic I have ever met, had left us peacefully at home watching the World Cup. One couldn’t help imagining it’s how the man himself would have wanted to go.
You might say that his passing renders sport meaningless, shunted back into perspective. Not so. It is cricket that gave so much meaning to Vinay’s time, that added colour and texture to his years, that made him happy to get out of bed on many days when he might otherwise have not.
“Sport cannot be separated from life,” the man himself wrote in that recent article. “It is a reflection of our values, our social fabric and ultimately our worth as human beings. Just like art and business and politics. Sport can be uplifting, it can demean, it can trivialize and it can educate.”
On Monday, I sat alone on a deserted stretch of the Bellarine Peninsula, on the same beach I’ve visited every summer since childhood. There has always been a strange sadness to this place, the calm clear water of the shallows and the vibrant blue of the deeper bay so beautiful it hurts.
My friends had driven back to Melbourne, I was to leave the next day. Even to my child’s mind, the summer’s final swim always held some deeper melancholy than the mere end of holidays. It involved the resolute march of time, the eventual end of all things, the year’s flourish now fading into winter.
That day, as the late sun smeared gold across the water in its final slide to the horizon, there was an added poignancy.
On that day, too many of us to count had lost a friend. The wider world had lost a kind man and an enquiring mind, two things already in short enough supply.
But this, just as Vinay said, is out of our control. In fact, only days ago, he left us instructions.
“Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile to a world that seems uncaring. But it is worth remembering that tragedy does not discriminate. It is also worth remembering that when one loses a loved one it is better to celebrate their life than to mourn it.”
And so we shall. For my part, I will go back to his poems, and find something of him there. Vexed questions of afterlives aside, this is the one sure way some part of us lives on. I only hope his latest collection will be released as planned this year, to add the final chapter to his legacy.
The title of the book, he had told me with a characteristic sly grin, was to be God Owes Me Royalties.
If the too-brief time that I knew Vinay Verma is anything on which to judge, I suspect he’s marching up there now to demand them personally.
(Originally posted at Vinay’s spiritual home, The Roar)