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Novy Kapadia, the voice of Indian football, chronicler of its golden age

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Moment 15 (2:59)

Top 20 Moments in Indian Sport (2:59)

Editor's Note: On the tragic occasion of Novy Kapadia's death, Debayan Sen pens a remembrance of his old colleague.

Not many might know that Novy Kapadia's passion for Indian sport extended way beyond just football. Fewer still would be aware that Novy was just as much a cricket buff, remembering games and details across formats that some of us almost half his age would tend to forget in casual discussion.

When Zee Sports - my then employers - picked up Indian football rights in 2005, the two go-to names had to be Novy and the late Noel da Lima Leitao. Novy stayed on as a resident studio guest for the next five years as we did football of all kinds -- Indian football, Serie A, and, my personal favourite, a studio wraparound show around the 2006 World Cup that we did purely on discussions with guests including Rohan Gavaskar, Alvito D'Cunha and our Plymouth Argyle fan boss Gary Lovejoy. In the absence of footage it was all about chat, analysis and anecdotes, and with Novy around, there was never a shortage of that.

Because of the definite roles that we performed back then -- I would be the on-site producer and commentator at the venues while Novy was typically in our studios -- we rarely got to work together, but having someone as knowledgeable and TV-savvy as Novy in the studio was comforting to all of us.

Novy was equally adept in Hindi commentary - I recall an occasion during the 2009-10 Federation Cup where we were in Guwahati but he was commentating back in the studio, where he likened the movement of a striker to a scooter winding its way through the narrow bylanes of Chandni Chowk in Delhi. Novy also had a very peculiarly Delhi way of pronouncing the Hindi word for "maybe" -- his "sheyed" made him sound more Punjabi than the Parsi he was.

Commentary is essentially about partnerships, and in the few occasions between 2010 and 2016 that we got to work together across a few sports and in a few languages, I always found him to be generous, witty and large-hearted.

In 2008, when planning a series on the history of Indian football, among the first names we considered was Novy's. His voice, and those of PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami and Franco Fortunato - all of whom have died in the last 20 months - carried the series, which won us a prestigious journalism award.

When ESPN India was launched in June 2016, one of our first projects was to interview Novy, both for the Top 20 Moments of Indian Sport special that we were planning (see video above), as well as looking ahead to the Rio Olympics. Novy was retired by then -- with his mother's death a few years prior and his sister and her family all abroad, he had anyway become a bit reclusive and reticent, barring the odd work opportunity for the love of sport. He recounted his memories in pitch-perfect tone, and when the cameras stopped rolling, poured his heart out about his loneliness. It was a difficult position to be in, other than to keep giving him hope that things would improve, especially on his health front.

When news came through of his health issues last year, I was approached to host a fundraising event where I would chat with Novy about his life and times, about St Stephen's College and then teaching English literature at Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur Khalsa College. That was the kind of impact this wonderful man had on people who had followed his work. Unfortunately, that day his internet acted up badly and while we could hear only snatches of him talking about attending Hyderabad Muslims (also known as Hyderabad Police at a similar juncture) versus Mohun Bagan matches as a toddler with his father, his infectious joy and enthusiasm for Indian football came through.

He was found in studios and commentary boxes across networks, but you could never get him to give glib promotion to any individual or an event. He called it like it was, even though a few of his clichés were perhaps a bit out of tune with the style that the younger generation is more used to now.

My personal favourite part of Novy came through when he was recollecting stories about Indian sport with a personal touch -- such as recalling how, during the decisive rubber of the Davis Cup in Kolkata in 1966, he went to fetch milk when Ramanathan Krishnan drew inspiration from a casual chat about his opponent Thomaz Koch's height and his resultant weakness with balls played low at his feet, and came back to find Krishnan had yanked India back into the game. Or talking about the competitiveness in university-level football in Delhi in the mid-1970s, when he represented Delhi University for a while.

Or how his classmate in college was actually the son of Henry Rebello, the Anglo-Indian triple-jumper who could well have been India's first Olympic medallist in track and field at the London Games, but pulled a muscle when there was a delay due to the Queen's arrival and the jumps being held up with the Indian in pole position.

There were few of your kind, Novy, and there will be fewer still going forward. Your words, and your books, will keep your voice immortal.