We keep reading about Bihar and its culture, food, places to visit, important landmarks and about so many leading lights and eminent personalities from Bihar. Bihar has produced so many literary giants – so many Poets, Novelists and Dramatists were emerged from Bihar, but do you know a globally acclaimed English novelist was also born in Bihar?
Yes, Eric Arthur Blair better known by his pen name George Orwell, was born in the small town of Motihari, in Bihar on 25 June 1903. He was a great English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic whose work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism and outspoken support of democratic socialism. The pen name George Orwell was inspired by the River Orwell in the English county of Suffolk.
He is best known for his perennial works like Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
His life was as enchanting as his books, that we all know but what is relatively unknown was the kinship he had with Bihar and how it sculpted him.
Orwell’s father, Richard Blair used to work as a civil servant in British government. He worked in the Opium department which brought him to the remote town of Motihari in Bihar (near the Indo-Nepal border) where he supervised poppy (a herbaceous plant with showy flowers, milky sap, and rounded seed capsules) farmers and the collection and processing of opium for export to China.
Motihari is the headquarters of East Champaran district (Purbi Champaran district, Tirhut Division) in the Indian state of Bihar. It is 25 km east of Dhaka town and 89 km north west of Muzaffarpur commissionary.
Champaran played a significant role in India’s struggle for Independence as it was from here only that Mahatma Gandhi launched the first civil disobedience movement or Satyagraha in 1917 that ultimately resulted, 30 years later, in the ouster of the Britishers from India. Gandhiji had been moved by the plight of farmers in Champaran who were exploited and forced to produce opium and indigo that was sent off to China and Europe. Orwell, who lived in Motihari for a year as a child before leaving for England, wrote admiringly of Gandhiji in his 1949 essay “Reflections on Gandhi”. The Gandhi Sangrahalaya, in Motihari, has a wide collection of relics and photographs of the Champaran Satyagraha.
But when George Orwell was born, Motihari and Champaran were 14 years away from being put on the map, by Mahatma Gandhi. He spent a year in Motihari before his mother, Ida Blair, took him to England with his sister.
After studying few years in England, George Orwell won a scholarship to prestigious Eton college. In 1922 after graduating from college at the age of 19, he joined Indian Imperial Police and went to Burma as an Assistant District Superintendent. Later he mentioned his experiences of Imperial rule in his novel Burmese Days and in autobiographical sketches like Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging.
In 1937 he fought as a part of republican militia in the civil war in Spain and was badly injured. Due to the injuries he could not join the British military when World War- II began and instead he headed the Indian Service of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
From August 1941 to November 1943 George Orwell worked in the Indian Section of the BBC’s Eastern Service, broadcasting radio programmes to India. Literary scholars believe many of the references and the sharp rage that reflects in the dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four came from the two years at BBC. His disillusionment is clear in his resignation letter to BBC where he writes,
“I am tendering my resignation because for some time past I have been conscious that I was wasting my own time and the public money on doing work that produces no result. I believe that in the present political situation the broadcasting of British propaganda to India is an almost hopeless task.”
In 1945, Animal Farm was published and he accumulated much acclaim for it. He died soon after, in 1950. His books are widely considered to be sharp, satirical and quick-witted criticisms of extreme ideologies like Imperialism as well as communism and his ‘Orwellian’ school of thought continues to inspire many today.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear“. These are words from his proposed preface to Animal Farm and a rallying cry for the idea of free speech in an open society.
In 2003, Motihari discovered its role in Orwell’s life when a number of journalists arrived in the town for Orwell’s hundredth birthday. The house where Orwell’s parents lived survived till his centenary birth anniversary in 2003 when it was rediscovered by his admirers. For many years it was in possession of a government school until the state government acquired the land around it under the Bihar Ancient Monument (Protection) Act, 1976 a few years ago. The deteriorating house in Bihar’s Motihari where George Orwell was born has been revamped into a memorial. The Bihar government has finally metamorphosed the house, in 2015 and set up the George Orwell memorial at Motihari in East Champaran district to commemorate the author’s links with the state. The state government had assigned a budget of Rs 59.50 lakh for its beautification in order to attract tourists from around the world, especially from Britain. The memorial has been built on a 2.48-acre campus and will have all amenities for the visitors.
Quote of the day:“You live it forward, but understand it backward.” ― Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone