Whatever else you think about it, the British occupation of India brought with it some of the most colorful characters ever to have emigrated from that gray island off the coast of Europe. Even in that exalted company, Allan Octavian Hume, must rank as one of the most intriguing.
We’ll get an idea of whether his intriguing life still has resonance today when one of his personal diaries comes up for auction in London this afternoon.
Hume was, in turns, an enforcer of British colonial law, the leader of a force that suppressed part of the 1857 mutiny, a founding father of the Indian National Congress (yes, that Congress party), an educational reformer, a sympathizer of India’s plight as a colonized nation, and an ornithological expert responsible for cataloging such gems as Hume’s European Nightjar and Mrs. Hume’s Barredback Pheasant. He sailed to India in 1849 and died in England in 1912.
In modern day India, he is a hard-to-categorize relic of a distant past. As a colonizer, he can’t be lumped in with the freedom fighters, even though he played an important role in what would become the independence movement. As an enlightened governor and independent thinker, he can’t be lumped in with the usual villains of colonial history.
Mahmood Farooqui, a historian and author of the events of 1857, said Hume “was a character very different from his peers” yet one that is unlikely to resonate with anyone but the keenest followers of India’s pre-independent past.
The country today is changing at lightning speed and “new money had scant respect for the past,” Farooqui says. “The Gandhis are Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, Nehru is clouded in some kind of mysterious past — and before that is an antediluvian moment.”
Given that, it would seem that the most likely buyer would be a Brit obsessed with the Raj. However, Andrew Currie, a spokesman for Bonhams, the London auction house that is holding the sale, said most of the interest in the auction so far had come from India or people of Indian origin in Britain.
Hume may still be alive in some circles thanks to journal entries like this: “I do not think that there can be less than 3000 real Mutineers in arms in the district – but as yet they seem to have no idea of uniting prefering to carry on their predatory profession independently. Heaven help the poor cowed villagers I cant — & no body else seems inclined to do so.”
[If you are interested in bidding, call +44 (0)207447 7448 or email email@example.com. Bonhams estimates the sale price at between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds. The auction begins at 1 p.m. London time, 5:30 p.m. Indian Standard Time today. There is more information here]
Source: WSJ.com: India Real Time