Among the things lost in the fire at New Delhi’s National Museum of Natural History was the femur bone of a sauropod, the largest animal ever to have roamed the earth. It had survived the vagaries of nature for a million years but was reduced to ash in a matter of three hours on Tuesday.
None of the precious exhibits could be salvaged: preserved amphibians, reptiles and butterflies as well as some mounted specimens like armadillos and a Tibetan yak. It amounted to loss of a priceless heritage.
As Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javdekar said, “The loss cannot be counted in rupees.”
But is there a silver lining to this at all, it is this. The museum, set up in 1972 to commemorate the silver jubilee of India’s Independence, has now been presented a chance to reinvent itself and become a bigger draw than it has been for a while now. A government proposal to move the four-decades-old institution to a green building of its own on Bhairon Marg between Pragati Maidan and Purana Qila has been hanging fire, so to speak, for a while now. It may now gather steam.
The museum may find replacements for the many exhibits that were lost on Tuesday – sourcing some from similar museums in Mysore, Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar and Sawai Madhopur – but it would be a challenge to find new taxidermied specimens, let alone a jaw-dropping fossil bone to stand in for the sauropod fossil.
Yes, it will take a while before people can stream in through its portals again.
On Tuesday, a little over 12 hours after the first of the fire engines reached Tansen Marg, two tenders remained at the spot, just in case the smouldering embers and the heat caused another fire. The flames had licked the cement walls black – a stark contrast to the tricolour glass panel on the façade of the FICCI offices, which were miraculously unscathed.