LOVERS of art and literature are devastated at the passing of Prof BN Goswamy, a doyen of culture and refinement and one of the country’s foremost art connoisseurs and men of letters. In the field of art appreciation, BNG was a recognised face in India and abroad.
At Panjab University, Chandigarh, he established from scratch the Department of Fine Arts, inspiring and nurturing many generations of scholars and teachers. His acceptance of the position of Professor Emeritus was an honour for the university.
BNG’s brilliant books on art, especially his treatises on Kangra paintings, were widely acclaimed. He is credited with having introduced traditional Indian painting to connoisseurs worldwide. He was valued as a visiting professor in many universities of Europe and the US. When I happened to visit the Getty Museum in Los Angeles some years ago, I dropped the name of Prof Goswamy as a close friend. All at once, my stock with the museum rose, for BNG happened to be its standing art consultant.
Over the years, many honours were bestowed on BNG, including the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan. But these awards weighed lightly on him. His feet remained firmly on the ground. As a fresher, I was privileged to know BNG in the university, which he had just joined as a teacher of history. His wife Karuna, who was several years younger than him, was my contemporary. Brijinder and Karuna made an elegant and imposing couple. In society, they came to be esteemed as an epitome of learning and sophistication.
As students in the 1960s, some of us were preparing to take a written examination for entry to the civil services. We were in awe of the formidable professor for an unusual reason. On the campus, it was known that BNG had been selected to the Indian Administrative Service and had served the government for a couple of years. His image in our eyes was that of an intellectual who spurned the prestige of India’s top service to join the noble profession of a teacher. It was with some hesitation that I made bold to approach him for guidance on tackling the subject of history. My apprehension in meeting BNG was unfounded. For him, in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, knowledge was free. BNG disarmed me; he spent considerable time and took pains to determine a chart of action that helped me succeed.
Recently, I requested BNG to write a foreword for my book. He had just suffered a tragedy — the demise of his wife Karuna and their son — but he bore it with rare fortitude. BNG obliged, as he had done for me 60 years ago. His words added lustre to the publication. Like the Oxford scholar in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, ‘Gladly would he learn, and gladly teach’. BNG was forever a teacher and equally a student.
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