George Orwell's colonial Indian bungalow being restored to house a museum

Restoration under way on colonial bungalow where author spent the first year of his life

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2014, 7:43pm


Heritage 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 him.

Besides the three-room house in which the author was born on June 25, 1903, the property in the small town of Motihari consists of a few tiny cottages and a large warehouse used to store opium. Orwell's father, Richard 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.

Orwell … was anti-imperialist and wrote against colonial exploitation

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, said his 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 said. "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."

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," said 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."

Born Eric Arthur Blair, Orwell was one year old when his mother, Ida Blair, moved with him to Oxfordshire. He never visited his birthplace again.

Motihari businessman Debapriya Mookherjee has campaigned to have it converted into a memorial, backed by his son Bishwajeet, who also made a film Orwell! ... But Why? to raise awareness.

Bishwajeet said: "The people of Motihari do not realise that even if Orwell was an Englishman, he was anti-imperialist and wrote against colonial exploitation. It's only right that we should honour his memory."