Archive for April, 2011

Tribute to Vijayatara

April 12, 2011

This is the original obituary I wrote which appears in today’s guardian in an edited form.
Vijayatara (Dr Sharon Elizabeth Smith) 1 July 1961 – 13 March 2011 by Kirsten Hearn
“Pray silence for the deceased!” booms Vijayatara as a carnivorous dining companion’s meaty meal appears. Even when on a diet, Vijayatara, a committed vegetarian, deeply appreciated food: she would declare “I’m glad I know you” to the cook as she sat, roundly replete, at the end of a meal. Born in London, of African-Caribbean descent, Vijayatara gained a 2.1 BSc honours degree in Chemistry at Durham (1982) and a PGTC at Goldsmiths (1983). She then taught science in Croydon for two years before escaping to the unsafe haven of paid Black feminist activism.
Vijayatara always engaged her powerful analytical mind to shaping cogent arguments to defeat discrimination wherever it reared its ugly head. Her work in the voluntary sector (1985 – 1990) and her lived experience as a black lesbian, caused her to begin to examine the intersectionality of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, faith and class, which was to inform everything she would do from here on in.
In the late 1980s she became a Buddhist, bringing her enquiring mind increasingly to the study of the Dharma. Seeking to live ethically, she always retained a generous attitude to other faiths. She was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 2003, and was given the name Vijayatara. Vijayatara had a rich deep contralto singing voice. Whether chanting to Tara or extolling dykedom with the Pre-Madonnas, London’s “mainly feminist choir”, she wrapped listeners in the richness of her resonant tunefulness. Always loud, her laugh warmed the hearts of all who heard it. In 1990, she embarked upon a local government equality career and completed a part-time MSc (Econ) at LSE in health planning and finance (1994). Despite the day job, Vijayatara’s fierce intellect needed further stimulation. She enrolled in a PhD in sociology of religion at Goldsmiths College, completing her thesis on “Buddhism, Diversity and ‘Race'” in 2008.
Vijayatara developed serious mental health issues in 1999 which necessitated her giving up full-time work. She was deeply affected by the death of her younger sister Wendy in 2000. But no matter what life threw at her, Vijayatara was sustained through everything by the strength of the life partnership she formed with Savitri Hensman in 1986.
In January 2011, Vijayatara was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died surrounded by the love of her partner, sister and friends. She is survived by her partner of 24 years, Savitri, and sister Sonia.

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Telling it like it is – tribute to a friend

April 11, 2011

Telling it like it is – tribute to a friend
Death has robbed you of your animation, but not your dignity. I stroke your cool forehead. They’ve placed a red rose amongst the riot that is your dark hair, o princess, what a picture you are?
They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say, love conquers all.
Do you remember the first time we met? You interviewed me for a job. Along with two others, you were masquerading as a GLC stereotype, you know, black, lesbian, disabled, working class. Funny that, you were pretty much the stereotype all by yourself! Thanks. You gave me the job!
They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say, love conquers all.
Restless now, you shift in your hard uncomfortable hospital bed. You kick the sheets from your sore feet. You’re breathing harsh and fractured. I sit beside you, willing the pain killers to kick in, hoping you’ll catch the rhythm of my breath and somehow be soothed. It’s all that I can do. They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say, love conquers all.
DO you remember Debbie Blind Dyke and the Token’s first gig? Jackson’s Lane 1989. I’d broken my leg. You were being my carer. The trouble is, your spacial awareness was rubbish and my broken leg plastered to the thigh was rather long and sticking right out of the wheelchair. Somehow you got me onto the stage, more or less in one piece. Thank you.
They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say, love conquers all.
In the moments rest offered by the pain killers, you are sleeping. All is quiet. I hold your hand, big, warm and strong. So capable.
They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say, love conquers all.
Do you remembered your de-luxe pink plastic electric foot spa? Decadently Essex, whirring and rumbling, frothing all over the carpet! You gave such fab foot massages, your big strong square hands, thumbs probing for the sore points, drawing from them all the tension and pain. Ah thank you! They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say, love conquers all.
“I love it when you snore, dear”, I say, stroking your round warm arm. You drift deeper and deeper into sleep. I talk of all that I have learned from you, of all that we have shared. I sing to you the songs that sustained us in troubled times.
They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say, love conquers all.
Do you remember us sitting on my flowery sofa putting the world to rights? I shared with you my experience of impairment, you talked about racism. Together we explored what united and what divided us. I never forgot those conversations and I know you didn’t either. Thank you for allowing me to clumsily explore that which we couldn’t speak of in public.
They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say, love conquers all.
On a cold cloudy March Sunday morning you leave us.
Suddenly, the peace of your room is violated. Your estranged relatives, their backs to you, demand to know about your will: Holding aloft the twisted morals of their cruel god, they stand in judgement of your lover, because she is not a man. They kiss their teeth in disgust because you are a Buddhist.
They say, “Blood is thicker than water”.
I say, love conquers all.
for It is we who have walked along life’s difficult path with you, It is we who have loved you through the darkest of your pain, we who have witnessed you rise victorious from that bitter betrayal once hidden by the bricks and mortar of the nuclear family. It is we with whom you have laughed, sung, and danced and we with whom you have plotted and planned. Together we have changed the world. I am different because you were in my life. Death can never take that away from me. I carry you always in my memory and my heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you
They say that Blood is thicker than water.
I say It’s Love, yes love that conquers all.
Kirsten Hearn (09 04 11)
(Written for the Drill Hall Darlings show “Telling it Like It Is”, Sunday April 10, 2011.