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Published: Saturday July 5, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday July 6, 2014 MYT 1:20:43 PM

World's first George Orwell museum: Author's birth home in India is saved

The dilapidated colonial bungalow in which Orwell was born in India is being restored.

The dilapidated colonial bungalow in which Orwell was born in India is being restored.

A dilapidated colonial bungalow where the writer was born in 1903 in Motihari, Bihar state, will become world’s first Orwell museum.

Conservationists in India have started to restore the dilapidated colonial bungalow in which George Orwell was born, as the government of Bihar state announced plans to convert it into a museum dedicated to the author. Besides the three-room house in which Orwell was born on 25 June 1903, the property in the small town of Motihari consists of a few tiny cottages and a large warehouse that was used to store opium.

Orwell’s father, Richard W Blair, worked in the remote town near the Indian-Nepalese border for the opium department, supervising poppy growers and collecting opium for export to China. Many of the buildings are in ruins, but the bungalow and a nearby cottage still stand, and are being restored along with the warehouse.

Despite Orwell’s influence on popular culture, there is no museum celebrating his contribution to literature and journalism, says the writer’s son, Richard Blair. “I am delighted my father’s old house is now under restoration and will be turned into a museum, a museum which will be the only one in the world,” he says. “For many decades the house was allowed to decay, so it’s only to be applauded that the Bihar government now sees fit to put money into the project.”

(Above) This photo shows the house where Orwell is thought to have lived in the 1920s in Katha, a small trading post on the banks of the Irrawady river, 13 hours north of Mandalay by train. A group of artists in a remote town in northern Myanmar has launched a campaign to preserve the house. Katha and the house lived in by Orwell, known then as Eric Blair, were immortalised in the author's first novel, Burmese Days. – AFP/William Davies
Greystone House, which once belonged to Orwell.

The George Orwell Archive at University College London has the world’s largest collection of material on the writer’s life and work, including manuscripts, letters, diaries, books, photographs and audio recordings. Blair is a member of the archive committee, and plans to raise the issue of supporting the museum through the creation of replica material or the loan of original items.

The Bihar government appears committed to the project, which has the backing of powerful Bihar leader and former chief minister Nitish Kumar. “We’ll design the museum with the help of experts,” says Chanchal Kumar, who heads the state’s art and culture department. “Orwell was a great writer, so money is not the issue. His son’s support gives us hope that we will succeed.”

Preserving the past: The dilapidated colonial bungalow in which George Orwell was born in India, is being restored.

Born Eric Arthur Blair, Orwell was a year old when his mother, Ida Blair, moved with him to Oxfordshire. He never visited his birthplace again. The house would have turned to rubble were it not for a campaign by a Motihari businessman, Debapriya Mookherjee, to convert it to a memorial.

Mookherjee’s son Bishwajeet has also pitched in, and made a film Orwell! ... But Why? in response to criticism about honouring an Englishman whose father worked in the opium department.

Motihari is part of East Champaran district, a region from where in 1917 Mahatma Gandhi launched the civil disobedience movement that ultimately resulted in the departure of the British from India. Gandhi had been moved by the plight of cultivators in Bihar who were being forced to produce opium and indigo for the lucrative markets of China and Europe respectively.

“The people of Motihari do not realise that even if Orwell was an Englishman, he was anti-imperialist and wrote against colonial exploitation,” says Bishwajeet Mookherjee. “I made the film to educate Biharis about Orwell, to tell them that a great writer was born in my home town. It’s only right that we should honour his memory.” — Guardian News & Media

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, George Orwell, Museum

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