On a wall in her Bondi home hangs a strikingly macabre portrait of Rajani Enderby. It is painted by Steve Kilbey, frontman of the Australian rock band The Church, whose merchandise she managed for some years. Describing the picture at her funeral last month, Kilbey said: “I painted Rajani as Kali, the [Hindu] goddess of destruction, with my severed head in her hand… And she loved that. She really loved it.”
Kilbey had a sometimes-challenging friendship with Rajani. He ad-libbed all about it during an anarchically hilarious, poetically profane and heartbreakingly beautiful preamble to the song he performed – as per the strict instructions she’d left him two months earlier – for the 400 or more mourners who attended her funeral at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, Waverley, on May 24.
She would have loved it, really loved it.
As she would have loved the eulogy delivered by her husband, Scott Enderby, in which he catalogued promises to the woman he’d married 17 years earlier but who had died, too young, at 52.
“I promise,” Enderby said, “that I will strive to be that person you saw in me… that I will use my artistic talents more… that I will be more compassionate and strive to assist peoples’ struggles as positively as you did … that I will always endeavour to add the Tamarind to the curry at the right time.”
Rajani’s curries became the essential metaphor. She was born Rajani Rajaretnam in 1965 to Sri Lankan Tamil parents in Malawi, where her father was accountant to the president. Their lineage could be traced to Tamil royalty, but Rajani spent most of her childhood in Malawi and Zambia, only months in Sri Lanka. Her family was forced to flee Sri Lanka once and for all after civil war erupted. She landed in Sydney in 1988.
Rajani studied accounting but later music engineering. She cultivated lifelong artistic friends, and she discovered passions that she nurtured until her death. In his eulogy, her husband thanked her for sharing them: “cooking, design, fashion, antiques, history, culture, human rights, music, art, philosophy, succulents and cactus growing, retail therapy, charities, saree-fitting, party-throwing, architecture, Swedish pottery, retro furniture and science fiction… my social circle quickly became enriched like a great spicy curry with many flavours, simmering and developing its complexity as time moved on.”
Enderby, a drummer, a surfer, cast himself as less sophisticated than his worldly wife. “Nevertheless, she must have seen some potential in me… when I casually proposed a potential matrimony across the pool table at the then poker machine-ravaged Annandale Hotel sometime during the year 2000, I was surprised when she didn’t think it was the worst idea I had come up with, and we completed the deal in 2001.”
The melting pot of people and ideas led them to their eclectic business in the Vividshop, with its homewares, giftware, jewellery, women’s fashion, vinyl records, and the works of artists they have fostered and exhibited. Right outside, at the junction of Crown and Devonshire streets, is the war zone of the light rail’s construction through Surry Hills, which has been crippling for scores of businesses, theirs included. Rajani harnessed her rage as energy, as she had with other injustices, campaigning for refugees or the environment, fundraising for charities.
“Gee, Rajani was a kind and lovely woman,” Kilbey’s brother told him soon after the shock of her death. Kilbey replied: “She wasn’t always kind and lovely to me.” To which their friend Frances chimed in: “That’s because she always kept it real for you.”
Kilbey divulged this conversation as he stood before the funeral congregation, wielding his guitar. “Within about two minutes [of meeting her], Raj was like the Subcontinental sister and conscience I never had. ‘Fuck, Kilbey, I wouldn’t do that. Oh, that doesn’t look very good. What did you put that up on Facebook for? That’s terrible.’ But when she said something good, you could believe it. We were like brother and sister squabbling and fighting and sulking and then reuniting and dreaming up silly plans.”
She was a hard taskmaster when Kilbey exhibited his paintings at Rajani and Scott’s former venture, a retro shop on Bondi Road.
When he “fell upon hard times after too much good living” in 2015, Kilbey moved into the Enderby home for a few months, “which was the most creative period of my whole life. I was painting day and night; I was making music.”
And he witnessed a constant tide of people through that house. “Every night there were singers and painters and landscape gardeners and surfers and conservationists and lefties and filmmakers and photographers and weirdos and strange people, just flowing in and out every night.”
They were all there in the church pews. Rajani had seen the good in people, “even if it was often hidden”, as Scott Enderby said. She corralled them, like an impresario of good souls, especially if they had a creative bone in their bodies. Among the mourners were musical artists: David Lane, Lindy Morrison, Declan Kelly, Mitch Anderson…
Kilbey told them he painted Rajani in the guise of Kali, the awesome, sword-wielding, head-severing, invincible goddess. Rajani, though, was mortal. She had long been afflicted with terrible nerve pain, never properly diagnosed. “She never did talk about this damned disease,” Kilbey said. “Oh, I’m all right,” she’d tell him. “You don’t worry about me. I’m worried about you.”
After moving out of her house, Kilbey returned one night and demanded a vodka. “I was pretty angry about something. And Rajani said, ‘No, I’m not giving you a vodka. You don’t drink.’ … I said, ‘Give me a fuckin’…’ And she gave me a vodka and then I passed out and hit the floor.
“The next day she texted me and said, ‘If you’re gonna die somewhere don’t do it around my place. I’ll have all your angry fans after me.’
“She was more than a friend… she was an inexorable force… The last time I saw her was in the shop a couple of months ago. She didn’t look well but she was feisty and she was chasing me around the shop – ‘I’ll get you, Steven Kilbey!’ – with her walking stick, and sort of tapping me and hitting me and prodding me … and we agreed I was going to do another exhibition in her shop. I was really looking forward to that.”
She told him that day: “You’re gonna play a song at my funeral, aren’t you, Steven Kilbey?”
“And I said, ‘Yeah, which one do you want, Rajani?’ ‘You know which one I want.’ ‘Oh, don’t make me play that one, Raj.’ ‘That’s the one I want and you’re gonna do it.’ So, this is for Rajani.”
Kilbey proceeded to play ‘Under the Milky Way’, the sublime 1980s hit that refuses to let him go.
On a Friday night last month, Rajani and more than 30 friends helped Scott celebrate his 50th birthday at a Surry Hills restaurant. There was cheer and much singing. They crooned ‘This Guy’s in Love with You’.
The next morning, Rajani was too unwell to accompany Scott to the shop. He called a few times during the day. She didn’t reply, but that was not so unusual. That night, he found her on the couch. He attempted resuscitation. The ambulance arrived. There was nothing they could do.
Like Shiva, Kali is a destroyer but also a transformer. She destroys darkness and ignorance and egos. She saves and liberates souls.
“I fear the future,” Scott Enderby told his fellow mourners, “without my soulmate, protector and advocate. However, I realise that Rajani’s legacy and unbreakable connections with so many amazing human beings has also offered me the opportunity of having the best support group ever.
“Thank you, my beautiful friend, for seeing enough good in me to feel I was worth the effort, and I will endeavour to justify your faith and make you proud… until we meet again.”