This refers to the report that A.O. Hume, the founder of the Indian National Congress, has been forgotten even as the party celebrates its 125th anniversary. Another dimension of Hume’s personality has got him a firm place in the pages of science. He was a pioneer ornithologist and earned the sobriquet “The Pope of Ornithology.” While in India as an ICS officer, he collected thousands of bird specimens across India, including the Andamans. He reported many new species from the northeast, including the famous Hume’s Bar-tailed Pheasant.

The Game Birds of India by Hume in three volumes in 1879 is a monumental work. The journal Stray Feathers which he ran from 1872 to 1898 carried seminal articles on ornithology. Copies of this journal are much sought after by collectors all over the world. Quite a few birds have been named after him, such as Hume’s Groundpecker, Hume’s Wheatear and Hume’s Warbler. He collected 63,000 bird pelts. But much of the collection was lost when his home Rothney Castle in Shimla was burgled. A biographer thinks this was an act of jealousy. The heart-broken Hume gave away what was left to the British Museum of Natural History. They are preserved in a separate building at Rothchild’s estate at Tring near London. (Visits are by appointment). Hume died on June 3, 1912 and lies buried at the Brookwood cemetery in London. The Hindu paid an editorial tribute and said “Mr. Hume’s name will ever be remembered with the warmest affection and gratitude.”

S. Theodore Baskaran,

Bangalore

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