George Orwell’s Birthplace in Motihari to Turn Museum
House and opium warehouse to be turned into Orwell Park
PATNA: The heritage house in Motihari in Bihar’s East Champaran district where George Orwell was born on June 25, 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair is going to be restored fully from its present dilapidated state.
The house, and the opium warehouse where the infant Eric would often be taken by his native nanny, have been handed over to the Bihar Archaeological Department for restoration works. The compound where house and warehouse lie will be made the world’s first Orwell Park after complete restoration.
The Bihar government is currently in negotiations with the George Orwell Archive at University College London to obtain replica materials and copies of Orwell’s manuscripts, letters, diaries, books, photographs and audio recordings.
University College London, which houses the world’s largest collection of materials and records on Orwell, has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the Bihar government to help it create the Orwell Museum at Orwell Park.
Originally the house, the quarters of the native hukumbardars or khidmatgars (servitors), khansamas (cooks) and maid servants, and the opium warehouse were located across an area of 2.5 acres. When Richard Blair lived here with his wife Ida, daughter Marjorie and little Eric, the compound had only a few cottages belonging to British indigo planters, jute traders and opium dealers.
From this now dilapidated warehouse, the opium would be transported to China under the direct supervision of Orwell’s father Richard Blair, who was the Sub-Deputy Opium Agent of the British Raj earning a princely salary of Rs 900 per year. He would also get three months’ paid holiday every year to go to London.
During one such holiday in 1904 Eric, Marjorie and Ida were taken to London by Richard Blair, when the man who would write Animal Farm was just a year old.
Orwell and his elder sister Marjorie were both born in this house in Motihari.
(The house of birth of Orwell)
Orwell never came came to back to Motihari. When in Burma (now Myanmar) he tried to come to India but was not allowed to return by the British Raj as he was sympathetic to the Indian freedom struggle.
When Orwell was still young, Mooteeharee (today’s Motihari) bordering Nepal was an area prone to malaria, typhoid and kala azar, and plagued with mounted dacoits. The arrival of floods in the monsoon was an annual ritual, when the areas around the house and opium warehouse would be knee-deep under water.
Richard Blair, the son of a vicar, joined the Opium Service of the British Raj at the age of 18 and came to Motihari when he was 46 years old. In his time squat little Mooteeharee was known across Bengal Province for poppy cultivation and opium production, and the cultivation of indigo and jute. Hardly any outsider came here.
The town then had a Christian cemetery, a jail, post office, a school and a troop of soldiers of the Light Horse Regiment.
(Main entrance of the house of compound where the house stands)
Blair’s job was quite demanding. He had to travel around Motihari to pay advance money to peasants for cultivating poppy, and discourage them from producing food crops like paddy and wheat. This is something the indigo planters would also do later.
The house where Orwell was born did not have a name 115 years ago. However, in those days locals called the area ‘Miscourt’: a strictly British enclave where no kala aadmi or black man was allowed, other than servants or maids.
Now known as Teliapatti, ‘Miscourt’ probably derives from the words Mess and Court, for there used to be an army mess and a tennis court nearby. The British Raj had established its opium post here way back in 1815, well before Blair’s appointment.
In 1934 all of Miscourt was shaken very violently by a massive earthquake, which nearly grounded all of North Bihar, North Bengal and Assam. Subsequently, the opium warehouse and the house where of Orwell was born developed cracks and fissures.
People across the world hardly knew the author of 1984 was born here in Bihar. In 1983 the British Journalist Ian Jack first came to Motihari while researching the life of Orwell. Upon going back to England Jack wrote a thought provoking article in the Sunday Times entitled ‘In Search of Jaarj Arwill’.
(A stone-slab on Orwell)
The write up resulted in global attention for Motihari and a large number of journalists, researchers and travelers from across the world started thronging Orwell’s birthplace.
They were dismayed at the ruinous condition of the house where Orwell was born. Subsequently the Bihar government came forward and took the decision to restore the three-roomed house to its original appearance.
(Orwell’s birth place)
(Probably the room where Orwell was born)
Photo Credit: Jackie Jura, an expert on George Orwell. Jura has also created www.orwelltoday.com.
Amlan Home Chowdhury is a journalist with 35 years’ experience.