Makeover for Orwell's India home
by Amarnath Tewary
BBC News (Motihari, Bihar), 1 August 2005


Orwell's birthplace is now home to a local teacherGeorge Orwell's dilapidated home in India will soon get a welcome makeover.

The writer of dark cult novels like Animal Farm and 1984 was born Eric Arthur Blair in the tiny town of Motihari in the eastern state of Bihar in 1903.

More than a century after Orwell's birth, his first home - a crumbling, one-storey building near the abandoned indigo warehouse where his father worked - is home to a local English teacher.

Now plans are afoot to build a museum and a stadium and put up a statue of the writer in the 10-acre area in Telliapatti.

Memorial

The Orwell memorial in a nondescript town in India's most lawless and backward state - Bihar has the highest crime rate and the most number of people living in abject poverty in India - is the brainchild of an Indian NGO with help from local authorities.

"A museum, indoor stadium, a library and a bust of Orwell will be erected. The main structure will be restored," a senior member of a local club, Debapriya Mukherjee, said.

The plan, according to local officials, is to restore Orwell's birthplace and his father's opium warehouse and raise a boundary wall to secure the place. The open area will be landscaped and a museum and an indoor stadium built on it. The museum will contain books, photographs and other Orwell memorabilia. The Heritage Foundation of India is pumping nearly $70,000 into the makeover, according to Mr Mukherjee.

"We want the birthplace of Orwell to be a heritage site of international importance. We are optimistic that by the end of 2006, it will become an [attraction] for foreign tourists," chairman of the foundation, LM Singhvi, has told reporters.

Orwell's father, Richard, worked as an agent of the opium department of the Indian Civil Service and was posted in Motihari. Young Orwell lived in Motihari for a year before leaving for England with his mother and sister. The writer never returned to this dusty, congested town near the border with Nepal. He died in 1950.

Little interest

Even Braj Nandan Rai, who lives in the building where Orwell was born, had not heard of him until three years ago when hordes of journalists and teachers descended on Motihari to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the writer's birth.

Mr Rai teaches Shakespeare and Wordsworth to students at a local school but Orwell's works are not part of the syllabus here.

A plaque reminds visitors about Orwell's birth home"I did not know I was living in a place of historical importance when Orwell fans started visiting my house. They brought some old photographs of the house with them," he says.

These days a dog-eared copy of Animal Farm occupies a book shelf in the home where the 54-year-old teacher lives with his wife. The only sign of the place's significance is a plaque put up by the local Rotary Club two years ago.

After the spurt of interest, Motihari seems to have gone off the radar of the writer's fans and journalists. There were no visitors on 25 June - Orwell's birthday - and Mr Rai had to distribute sweets he had kept for visitors to local children.

East Champaran district - Motihari is its main town - is better known for a flourishing kidnapping "industry" - people have been abducted for ransoms as low as $70 and as strange as 20 torchlight batteries and clothes.

The Orwell memorial may help give the place a better name.





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