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Culture

Netizens try to save George Orwell's house

An online campaign has been launched by concerned citizens to save British author George Orwell’s birth home in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, near the border with Nepal.

Ever since Debapriya Mukherjee along with literary aficionados started a website a week ago to mobilize support and pressure the state government to help conserve George Orwell's birthplace, he has been bombarded with messages.

The 56-year-old businessman, who lives in the tiny town of Motihari in the impoverished state of Bihar, is confident that this online campaign will result in action to preserve the cult author's dilapidated house. Already, he has support coming in from literary clubs and philanthropists.

"For years the government has promised to develop the house and the area around it into a world-class heritage site and even mooted the idea of building a museum and putting up a statue. But these are all empty promises," Mukherjee told DW from Motihari.

Cover art for Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
(Photo: Secker and Warburg, London).

Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell's most popular novel

He is being helped in this endeavor by the local Rotary Motihari Lake Town club, keen to put Motihari on the map of literary destinations.

"We have had over a thousand people pledging support from Motihari alone. This time we will take our fight to the logical conclusion and get things moving," Raj Thakur, a primary schoolteacher told DW.

Orwell's house falling apart

The crumbling single storey house, situated about 300 km from the state capital Patna, is in bad shape and has been left to decay. The roof line has caved in, stray cattle graze in its premises and around 25 squatters have set up home in the three acres the government plans to convert into a heritage site.

Previous governments had vowed to see the entire area developed into a center of cultural activities that would also include a library and a park in memory of the writer of classics such as "Animal Farm" and "1984." However, nothing has moved.

"Yes I know the house is not kept well. But we will not ignore the birthplace of Orwell any longer. We have big plans to develop it and work will begin soon," a state official in the Department of Art and Culture told DW.

George Orwell in his workshop

The prolific writer also worked as a journalist

At present, there is nothing to indicate - no signs, no photographs - that this decrepit house was where Orwell spent the first year of his life. Orwell lived in Motihari for a year as a child before leaving for England in 1904.

His father, Richard Blair, worked as an agent of the opium department of the Indian Civil Service during British rule.

Neglect to protect country's heritage

The online campaign comes at a time when there is a huge debate about the neglect of historic sites that dot the country.

"It is just not Orwell's house alone. Look at the traditional residences of our famous artists and protected sites in far-flung areas. They are neglected and no restoration work has happened. Nobody cares," Prateek Guha a consultant for the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) told DW.

This non-profit organization was set up to involve its members in protecting and conserving India's vast natural, built and cultural heritage.

Incidentally Motihari is steeped in history. It's here where Mahatma Gandhi began his movement in support of the local farmers being forced to grow indigo for the British textile industry in April 1917.