POONA & MOTIHARI ORWELL MEMORIES
To Orwell Today,
I am a Pune, India-based freelance writer and am working on a feature for The Times of India, India's top selling newspaper, on the decadent state of the house in Motihari, Bihar (India), where George Orwell was born in 1903 and spent the first year of his life.
I chanced upon orwelltoday.com and am keen that you participate in my feature.
What I think the feature can greatly benefit from is a short comment covering:
(a) what draws you to Orwell (I know it is hard to explain in a few words) and what inspired orwelltoday.com, and
(b) what level/nature of interest/initiative have you come across on orwelltoday.com regarding the house Orwell was born in; for example, who are the people interested in doing something about it, where do they hail from, any interesting conversations on the web site that you particularly remember, and so on.
I look forward to your reply.
I was first drawn to Orwell back in the early 90s when I recognized similarities between "political correctness" and "thoughtcrime" as described in his famous book "1984" -- which I had read in high school twenty-five years previously. Upon re-reading the book I realized that it wasn't just thoughtcrime that was permeating our society, but many other features of the nightmare world of 1984 -- and it became my mission in life to spread Orwell's warning to the world. That is what inspired me to create ORWELL TODAY comparing the world Orwell described in 1984 with the world we are living in today.
At the time I created the website -- in 2000 -- I knew almost nothing about Orwell except that he was English and had written many other books and short stories -- all of which I subsequently read and all of which I enjoyed immensely -- in some ways more than 1984 which is a difficult and disturbing book to read -- akin to taking awful-tasting medicine that is necessary to save life.
Then as years went by I read many biographies about Orwell and retraced his footsteps whenever I went to England to visit family and friends. That's how I discovered that Orwell the man was just as great as Orwell the author -- and that what he writes about is what he thinks about -- and all of his books are in large part autobiographical with his main characters expressing what Orwell himself wants to convey to we the readers.
I came to the opinion that Orwell is one of England's greatest writers, and one of its greatest patriots, and it bothered me that there is no statue of Orwell in England, and I expressed this in some of my writings.
In 2004 an Orwell fan from India wrote to say that he was interested in creating a shrine to honour Orwell in the village of Motihari, Bihar where Orwell was born in 1903. See SHRINE TO ORWELL
Since then many readers have emailed expressing their ideas on how Orwell's birthplace in India could be preserved and restored -- and in 2008 a couple travelled to Motihari and sent in a report and photos of the plaque that had been erected by the Motihari Rotary Club. See VISITING ORWELL'S INDIA BIRTHPLACE
Then in 2010 the Motihari Rotary Club erected a statue in front of the house where Orwell was born. At this time, too, the government of Bihar got enthusiastically behind the project, designating Orwell's home a protected heritage site. See ORWELL STATUE IN MOTIHARI
It's godcidental that you're writing from Pune, India because that is the city where my great-grandmother died and is buried. As I've mentioned in previous articles, my great-grandfather, ie my paternal grandfather's father, was the Anglican Bishop of Bombay in 1904 to his death in 1908 -- he too is buried in India. Prior to being Bishop of Bombay my great-grandfather was Bishop of Mauritius from 1900 to 1903, and I've shared photos with readers in the past.
When my great-grandparents sailed from England to Bombay in January 1904 they left all of their eight children behind in boarding schools and in the care of relatives. My grandfather, born in 1893, was the 7th child and the youngest boy, and a few years after his father died (when he was 15 years old) he emigrated to Canada where he homesteaded with an older brother. Here are photos of my great-grandmother with her children:
The top photo shows my great-grandparents and all eight of their children (including the nanny). My grandfather is the one being held by his father. The next two photos are of my grandfather with his mother and a sister and brother respectively -- that's him on the left. The bottom photo is of my grandfather -- as an adult on the farm -- playing chess with a friend. I like how it shows him -- many years later -- in the same position playing a board game as in the earlier photo with his mother. To this day I possess the brass candlesticks that can be seen in the background.
My great-grandmother lived only seven months after arriving in India -- she died of cholera in Poona in August 1904. She was 43 years old having been born in 1861 which, to put it in perspective, was when the Civil War in America began and Lincoln was president. Her funeral was held in St Paul's Church in Poona. Here is a photo of the inside of the church and the funeral card:
When my great-grandfather became the Bishop of Mauritius -- and they were leaving the four oldest children behind in England (but taking the four youngest) -- he gave my great-grandmother a necklace with four heart-shaped gold lockets containing the hair and initials of each child. Then, when he became Bishop of Bombay, and they took none of the children with them, he added two more lockets for the younger boys, and one locket for the two girls, containing their initials and their hair. Here's a photo of the necklace and below that a photo of my great-grandmother wearing it.
After my great-grandmother died, the Bishop took pieces of her hair and put it inside each locket and gave each child their own locket (except for the girls' locket which he kept on the necklace and wore himself). He left instructions that after he died the necklace would go to the eldest surviving child, and that when each child died, their locket would be returned once again to the necklace, and after all children died, the necklace would be handed down to the next generation. All the children fulfilled that wish and the necklace -- with all seven lockets -- is in the possession of the descendants of the eldest child.
Since receiving your email from India, which brings back memories of my grandfather and great-grandparents, I did a search and found a history of St Paul's Church in Poona:
St Paul's Church, Pune (...His Excellency the Governor laid the foundation stone of St. Paul's Church on Saturday afternoon August 29, 1863, and the Christian community assembled a thousand strong. St. Paul's was ready by the middle of February 1867.... St. Paul's was consecrated on March 5th 1867. This structure is of the early English style of Gothic architecture....)
I also found a YouTube of a children's choir singing in St Paul's Church in Poona recently.
watch St Paul's Church, Pune, India, YouTube, August 2011
My great-grandparents and grandfather are no doubt smiling from heaven to hear the beautiful voices of the children in Poona, India. All his adult life -- until dying at the age of 93 -- my grandfather always played the organ in the church where he attended. Whenever I hear church music I think of him because he had an organ at home, too, and he played it for pleasure and for we children when we visited.
Thanks for your email from Poona (which you spell Pune) and the trip down memory lane. If I am ever so fortunate as to travel again to India (I was there in the early 70s and flew over Bihar en route from Katmandu to Calcutta) I'll pay homage to my great-grandparents in Bombay (Mumbai) and Poona on my way to Motihari to pay homage to Orwell.
Actually, Orwell was baptised in Motihari at the Anglican Church of St John in the Wilderness. I wonder if that church is still there -- it would be another destination, besides the museum at Orwell's house, for tourists to visit when in Motihari.
The classic photos we have of Orwell as a baby, being held in the arms of his mother and his nanny, were probably taken in front of the church on the day of his baptism. Notice he's wearing a christenting gown, and mother and nanny are dressed in Sunday best too.
All the best,
PS - In answer to your question about the emails I've received regarding Orwell's Motihari birthplace, you can read all of them at the bottom of the original SHRINE TO ORWELL article where they are linked. I just put a new one up today. See MOTIHARI MOOKHERJEE DEFENDS ORWELL
To Orwell Today,
Thank you so much for your response. I plan to use a part of it in my article as a quote, depending on how much I can accommodate within the permitted word count.
I am delighted to know about your connection with Pune (the name was officially changed a few years ago from the colonial "Poona" to "Pune", which is how it is pronounced in the local language). I so look forward to welcoming you in Pune some day.
I authored a long series of articles a few years ago - my second such series - about the heritage structures in Pune and St. Paul's Church was one among them. It is one of my favourite heritage buildings in the city.
Thank you once again.
Greetings again Harsh,
It's godcidental that St Paul's Church is well known to you, and that you actually featured it in your series of articles, which I'd be very interested in reading -- and also the article you are presently working on.
And yes, it will be wonderful, one day, to go together to the church when I'm in Poona.
PS - I have a book -- THE HIGH-ROAD OF EMPIRE by Hallam Murray -- inscribed to my paternal grandmother from her mother (another great-grandmother) on the occasion of her 27th birthday in December 1919 -- just months before her first trip to Canada where she met and fell in love with my grandfather (having travelled, with his sister -- her best friend -- to his homestead in Alberta). She painted Niagara Falls, in Ontario, while on the way:
My grandmother's interest in painting -- she was a wonderful artist who had studied art in Italy -- was no doubt one of the reasons she was given the India book as a gift -- and also, of course, because of the family ties to India.
Below I've scanned the cover, title page and excerpts from passages pertinent to Poona (although not the entire chapter as it is very long -- and the book itself is very thick). The book was published in 1905, so it was written during the same time my great-grandparents -- and Orwell -- were living in India:
It's another one of those godcidences that the first sketch of Poona is of someone walking in a funeral procession -- it's easy to imagine it being my great-grandmother's funeral. Next is a sketch of the hills -- the ghats -- upon which the city of Poona is situated. The only water-colour sketch in the Poona chapter is described by the author as "A Doorway in Poona". He says "There are some picturesque nooks and corners in the city. I found time to make a drawing of a quaint doorway..."
Now that this book has come to my attention again -- in researching Poona -- I plan to take time to read it from beginning to end. It's more than a travel-diary because as the author sketches and describes each place he visits he gives an overview of history up to and since India becoming part of the British Empire in 1858.
...conversation continues at BIG BROTHER INDIA ABANDONS ORWELL
EDWARD VIII STAMPS/MAILBOX/ABDICATION
ORWELL'S WALLINGTON ROYAL MAIL DELIVERY
GRANDPARENT'S HORSES & HOMESTEAD
ORWELL'S TYPEWRITER A REMINGTON
ORWELL'S TYPEWRITER MY GRANDFATHER'S
ORWELL & JURA GRANDFATHERS VICARS
ANCESTRAL BOOKENDS TO ORWELL
ORWELL'S WHITE HORSE
ORWELL THE HAPPY VICAR
listen JACKIE JURA INTERVIEW ALL ABOUT ORWELL, with Patrick Timpone, One Radio Network, August 18, 2011
HOMAGE TO ORWELL and PILGRIMAGE TO ORWELL
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