Tuesday was a disappointing day for me. The fire at the National Museum of Natural History seems to have destroyed all of which is to be preserved for future generations to see.
We put together some great exhibits. The skin of a partially black tiger (melanistic tiger) was kept there. It is the only known specimen of its kind in India. There are a few in other countries. It was perishable and would not have survived the fire, I think. The dinosaur fossil, I hope, would have survived since it is essentially a rock but the linkages we drew and the way it was displayed is lost.
There were collections of rare photographs – of animals, birds, plants and butterflies – which were mounted on ply boards and spread across the museum. I am sure they have not survived.
But the biggest loss, I think, is the library.
It was an exhaustive repository of all books that could tell you more about plants and animals and their history. I think it is impossible to recover all of that.
Museums are a must for education and the Museum of Natural History catered specifically to children. Children, in fact, were the most common visitors. We organised lectures, exhibitions, and summer and winter camps for them. These were always popular.
I joined the museum in 1976 when the idea was being put to paper. I, along with my colleagues and director SM Nair, put the exhibits together painstakingly. It took years and years.
The museum started by showing how man evolved and went on to depict the constant conflict between man and nature.
Over the past two decades, the museum had started dying out. Neglect was eating it up. There was a major fund crunch. All of this started in 1995-96. Constant updating of the exhibits was needed to keep the museum alive but it stopped happening. Once interest at the higher level (the ministry) stopped, the various activities we used to do also stopped. At one point, hundreds and hundreds of students would come in but all of that stopped when parking in the area became a hassle.
I hope that the Ministry of Environment and Forests will revive the museum and also take care of the others spread across the country.
(The scientist was with the National Museum of Natural History from 1976 to 1998, and spoke to HT about the loss because of the fire)
As told to Mallica Joshi