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George Orwell's Indian birthplace dedicated to Gandhi; locals fume

April 17, 2013|By Jenny Hendrix
  • The birthplace of author George Orwell in Motihari, Bihar, India.
The birthplace of author George Orwell in Motihari, Bihar, India. (AFP / Getty Images )

The bungalow where George Orwell was born, in Motihari, Bihar, India, is finally being turned into a monument, Agence France-Presse reports -- but it's a monument to Mahatma Gandhi, not the British writer. Local officials laid a foundation stone at the site over the weekend.

The house, where Orwell (then named Eric Blair) was born in 1903 and lived for a year before leaving for England, has been neglected for decades. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1934, has played host to scores of stray animals and, despite a promise in 2009 by the state government to fix it up, had been left to the mercy of weather and time. The statue of Orwell at the site has been vandalized. 

Locals in Bihar were surprised and displeased by the odd decision to dedicate the monument to Gandhi, according to the Hindustan Times, as the site has no association with Gandhi or his independence movement. Instead, locals -- who started a website to plead for the site's restoration -- had been hoping to develop it as a tourist destination honoring the author of "1984" and "Animal Farm," which might provide desperately needed revenue for the area. 

Deo Priye Mukherjee, head of the George Orwell commemorative committee in Motari, characterized Saturday's foundation stone placement as a "land grab." Officers of the Motari Rotary Club have sent a letter to the government art and culture department protesting the construction, but as of Wednesday, local functionaries said the plan to honor Gandhi will go ahead.

Orwell himself might not have been terribly pleased. He discussed Gandhi in his 1949 essay "Reflections on Gandhi," and admitted to an "aesthetic distaste" for the independence leader, although he could admire his good intent: "One feels of him that there was much he did not understand, but not that there was anything that he was frightened of saying or thinking. I have never been able to feel much liking for Gandhi, but I do not feel sure that as a political thinker he was wrong in the main, nor do I believe that his life was a failure." 

At least Orwell's birthplace is avoiding the rather more ignominious fate of some other authors' homes. As a Flavorwire investigation found out, the birthplaces of Edith Wharton, Eugene O'Neill, and Jack London are all now Starbucks franchises.

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