This farm was once Orwell's home,
Abhay Mohna Jha, Times of India, Aug 23, 2005

MOTIHARI: Nagendra Kumar, a Hindi teacher officiating as Gopal Sah Vidyalaya's principal, walked in through the arched gateway to take possession of his official residence in the late 1990s. A devout Hindu, Kumar had even consulted an astrologer for an auspicious time to enter the house. The stone inscription on the walls of the crumbling structure read: "P.W.B. 2/12". For the uninitiated, it means Public Works Building, establishing government ownership of the premises. The low stone arch with iron gates supplements local belief that the place once used to be a British jail. But incarcerated in this decrepit home is the childhood of one of the world's literary giants. Welcome to George Orwell's home.

Currently, a leased property of Gopal Sah Vidyalaya, it was formerly called Hackock Academy in the memory of the British collector of Champaran. "The acting principal peeped through a window and threw his towel inside, marking his entry into the house. However, he must've been too scared to move in,'' said Braj Nandan Rai, the man who currently occupies the nondescript house.

Through the window one can see layers of dust, windblown dry leaves, grass and twigs littering the cob-webbed room. Standing in the court yard, Kumar must have sensed a jungle around him, with perhaps a cobra hissing danger.

With Kumar refusing to enter it, the house was further allowed to go to seed until Rai, an English teacher, moved in three years ago. Rai, who teaches Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Tennyson, was perhaps undeterred by the sight of pigs, buffaloes and goats around him. Not just that, the place also had plenty of dogs to fill in the gaps. But Rai quickly unleashed the cleaning brigade.

Working on the Animal Farm gradually, he managed to save it from crumbling. He then began what was a quiet and content life till journalists, several from overseas, came calling. "I was baffled," Rai said, adding in his thick Bhojpuri accent, "I then came to know that Orwell Sahib was born here." The teacher has since learnt to live with hacks disturbing his solitude. He also learnt about George Orwell, the legendary author born here on June 25, 1903. He was named Eric Arthur Blair. His father Richard Walmesley Blair, the son of a Vicar, was posted as the deputy subagent in the opium department here. Blair's mother Ida was the daughter of a British teak merchant in Burma.

"Initially, there was a lot of confusion regarding the house of Orwell's birth,'' Rai said, recalling the flurry of debate amongst curious visitors. "Then I saw two photographs in a book brought by a British journalist. Both the pictures showed baby Blair in the courtyard of this very house. In one, he is seen with his mother Ida 'glowing in a (Victorian) frock', while in the other, he is with an unidentified Indian ayah.''

According to sources, the local premises were under the charge of opium collectors after the jail was shifted. Opposite Blair's crumbling house stands the old opium warehouse, which had been used as the Vidyalaya's hostel for some time. An elderly local said till some years ago, no one knew of the Orwell connection. "And when it came to light, nothing came out of it. Is this not like an instance of the bureaucratised state Orwell wrote about in his book "Nineteen Eighty Four''? The debris of the Orwell birth place in the midst of a virtual "animal farm'' here suggests nothing else.''

But all's not lost. While it would be a far cry to expect the creation of Shakespeare's "Stratford" here, the Rotarions of laketown Motihari have kindled hope. "We have initiated a movement to restore Orwell's Motihari home", Rotarian Debapriya Mookherjee said, adding that they were planning "a plaque outside the house with the writer's life history, a museum and a library with Orwell's works and the restoration of his house to its original grandeur".

The plaque sure is well visible.

Makeover of Orwell's India home (a plaque was put up by the local Rotary Club two years ago). BBC, Aug 1, 2005


Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

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