"I joined Panjab University’s department of fine arts in 1981. It was my second master’s in art history (first was in history from the University of Bombay). B.N. Goswamy taught me the history of Western paintings. He was an impeccable speaker. I think one of his biggest strengths was his command over languages; he knew Persian poetry, Urdu poetry, Braj Bhasha, English—he was proficient in all. And he had this ability to talk about paintings, particularly miniature paintings since it was his area of specialization, which made art more accessible. He often used to say, you must immerse yourself to read the work of a painter.
"When Goswamy started his journey, art history was a relatively new terrain. As a subject, it started at the turn of the century in India. Karl Jamshed Khandalavala, Moti Chandra.. these were the people, a little older to Goswamy, who had just started working in this area. I would say Goswamy was at the right place at the right time, because it was post-independent India, there was a great kind of resurgence of looking at the Indian-ness of art. At the time, Nehru had said you must always look at beautiful things, and he put a budget of 1% for every building to have art. So, art history started becoming popular and there were not too many centers, there was one in Chandigarh, Baroda and Shantiniketan. But Chandigarh was different to Shantiniketan and Shantiniketan was different.
"I've attended his public lectures as well, and what always stood out was how his lectures were so compelling. Whatever he did, he did it with a great amount of meticulousness and sophistication. That was probably his biggest strength… the exchange of image to text and text to image. He communicated the world of devotion and social realism that lived in miniature to the world and helped them understand it with accessible language and a more relaxed way of writing—different from the academic way of writing.
"He was one of the three people instrumental in bringing the art history department into prominence. The other being, Mulk Raj Anand and Mohinder Singh Randhawa. This was the holy trinity that set up a lot of things, from the Chandigarh Museum to the government museum. He also did a lot of work at the Calico museum, and worked closely with (German scholar) Eberhard Fisher on Pahadi paintings. Goswamy was indeed an agent of enormous transformation, understanding and appreciation of Indian art, particularly Indian miniature paintings.
“Personally, he helped me develop a finer eye. He looked at art in several ways since he knew different languages, so that helped me tremendously to perceive things in more than one way.”
— As told to Pooja Singh.