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Erroll Pritchard with Phillip Ernest.

Errol Pritchard, Born North Battleford, Saskatchewan, 1937.

Died Jiva Das, Toronto, Ontario, 2022.

शान्तिः shantih, rest in peace.

Phillip Ernest:

One day in July 1986, sixteen years old and homeless, I barely made it to the Scott Mission’s second sitting at eleven AM, and was rushing into the dining room with the last stragglers, holding Gore Vidal’s novel Kalki, which I had found in one of the city’s grimmest homeless shelters the night before. As we hurriedly filed into place at the last table, a dwarfish older man who was next after me in line sat down beside me, saying a few ironic words about the special character of the Mission’s habitual late diners that struck me as reflecting an unusually keen and present mind.

When I walked out the Mission’s door after eating, I found him behind me. He ostentatiously mimed interest in the book, tipping his head to look at the cover.

“Kalki”, I said, authoritatively regurgitating what I had learned from the book’s dust cover. “He’s the last incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.”

“Yes”, he replied with a condescending but not unfriendly smile, “I know who Kalki is.”

We sat on a bench on the lawn in front of the University of Toronto’s Hart House. He was a poet, a novelist, a translator of Sanskrit, a musician, an autodidactically learned, cultured man, born Errol Pritchard in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, self-named Jiva Das. I was a fragile, troubled runaway, who had gropingly found his way to the literature that was now his chief consolation and hope. I read him a poem I had been writing in couplets inspired by Alexander Pope, struggling with concepts — atma, brahma, citta, punarjanma, ahimsa — for which I then had no names. I was sixteen, he was forty-eight. There was no end of things to talk about.

Now, thirty-six years later, as I sit in my flat in the Indian city of Pune, at my desk piled with books in an ancient Indian language I would otherwise never have thought to learn, I remember that day with the vividness and detail of the days that change our lives forever.

Reg Hartt was there too, that summer, though I would not actually meet him for a few more years. At around the same time, I found one of his posters for Nosferatu stapled to a telephone pole on Robert Street. I wrote down the titles of the pieces that formed his current soundtrack for the film, and went and listened to them in the Metro Reference Library’s music department, again and again. They became my soundtrack for the summer of 1986 until Jiva suggested that I listen to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, with which I immediately became obsessed, listening to it hundreds of times. Jiva knew about those posters and the man who posted them. Jiva made his living playing a recorder on Bloor Street, sitting on a milk carton with his sheet music mostly Bach and Telemann propped on a cardboard box in front of him. He would meet Reg sometimes, stapling his posters to the boarded-up facade of the University Theatre, Jiva’s preferred place to play, or to telephone poles along that stretch of Bloor. They were fellow creatures of the street, fellow members of Toronto’s undeclared underground society of strange and wonderful people.

I left Toronto for Europe and Asia in two thousand four. Jiva had moved indoors the year before, at sixty-five, when he began to get his Canada Pension, which he considered to be a fabulous amount of money, as he considered his third-floor firetrap of a room at Toronto’s grimmest intersection, River and Dundas Streets, to be as spacious and luxurious as a condominium. Here he resumed the translation of the Sanskrit philosophical epic, the Yogavasishtha, that he had begun in the seventies after teaching himself the language in the University of Toronto’s libraries. He chose (disappointingly, to me) to return to his translation instead of Walking Dead Man, an unfinished novel about his “four-times great-grandfather” John Pritchard, a significant figure in the history of the prairie provinces. He had never ceased to write poetry. In the fifties, as the prodigious teenager Errol Pritchard, he had studied poetry composition in Theodore Roethke’s elite class at the University of Washington in Seattle, in which city he later founded the still current journal Poetry Northwest.

After my departure from Toronto, we continued to converse through email, and met each other on several of my return visits to the city but not on my most recent, last March, when the complexity and confusion of travel led to my not meeting him, bitterly disappointing him. He went silent online shortly after, not only to me, but to all of his very small circle of friends. And in the shadow of that misunderstanding between us, he died, in August, in a deep and probably chosen solitude. Only at the beginning of January was I finally able to confirm, for all of us, what had, over the months, slowly become a near certainty: he was gone.

Jiva was a believer in the philosophy he studied and translated. He believed in reincarnation, the evolution of the spirit, transcendence, release. As for myself, I’m not so sure. I wish I could be. His influence on my life was total and profound, and he was unforgettable to everyone who met him. May he, somehow, not be extinct. May he be free and at peace, as he believed.

Philip Ernest wanted his piece to be read with the indentations shown here.

Reg Hartt: “Are you him or are you his son?” said an older man as I posted flyers for my ongoing film and lecture programs on a construction hoarding at the site of the old University Theater on Bloor Street West in Toronto.

“I’m him,” I said.

“I thought you’d be older.”

“I will be one day.”

“Whatever happened to that GILGAMESH you were writing?”

“It is on the back burner.”

“Please move it to the front. Before I retired I was a translator. You were doing a great job. Finish it.”

That was my introduction to Errol Pritchard.

He used to sit on a milk carton in front of the old University Theater playing flute. Sometimes people gave him money. Sometimes they didn’t.

As a result of that chance encounter I moved GILGAMESH to the front burner.

Another chance encounter brought into my life Peter Sumadh, a young poet.

The two enabled me to complete a project I had worked twelve years on. That project needed those twelve years.

In the spring I will host a reading of GILGAMESH in his memory.

Until One Is Committed
Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have  come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. —W. H. Murray, THE SCOTTISH HIMALYAN EXPEDITION.


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