NOVELY uncle, as I knew him from earliest childhood, was a close friend and colleague of my father. His wife Bimla was our relative. In 1953, when I was a fledgling schoolboy, he took me in his open jeep on a shikar mission in the dusty wasteland of Mahendragarh district. He cut a heroic figure, trim as a professional athlete, an impressive handlebar moustache adorning his statuesque face. Apart from his filmstar visage, what impressed me was the skill with which he controlled the vehicle at a high speed in that undulating desert terrain. At the age of 30, he was a flamboyant subdivisional magistrate. I had no idea then of the work he did; he was for me merely a fascinating figure to hero-worship.
When I joined the civil service a dozen years later, N Khosla, as he was known in his official circle, was established as a brilliant and energetic IAS officer. He and Bimla welcomed us young recruits home with warm hospitality at any time. As an administrator, he was famed to shield the younger generation of officers attached with him in any conflict inevitable in management, thus proving to be an able mentor to those learning the ropes.
Navjeevan Khosla rose to the highest level in the civil service in Punjab. What distinguished him from his peers was his passion for Hindustani classical music. He was a gifted connoisseur with an enviable collection of gramophone records of the masters of traditional music — this was before technology brought, in succession, spools of tapes, cassettes and compact discs. I recall evenings when we enjoyed recordings of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ravi Shankar at Novely’s home. His interest in music went far beyond recorded versions. He took it upon himself to bring classical music recitals live to audiences in Chandigarh. The Indian National Theatre (INT) that he created was dedicated to showcasing an annual festival of music uninterrupted for many decades, even during the disturbed conditions in the region. It was a miracle how top musicians in the country, whose ‘market value’ for stage performances could run into lakhs of rupees, agreed to accept his invitation, taking a pittance for exhibiting their famed skills. The miracle was in the persuasive power of Novely Khosla. The maestros knew that the cause was noble, not fuelled by monetary consideration. Indeed, many of the performers preferred to stay at Novely’s home rather than in hotels. There they found a kindred soul, who was keeping alive the beauty of India’s musical tradition.
On his departure at the age of 101, I learnt that he had donated a substantial part of his life’s savings to INT to keep the musical tradition alive. A few years earlier, when my father, his dear friend of many years, passed away at the age of 98, Novely Khosla had tears in his eyes as he simply said, ‘So, I have to outlive him!’
It is rare today for anyone to cross the magical age of 100 years. It is rarer still to find a person who gave back to society as much as he did.
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