Orwell's birthplace to be saved from decay

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After being neglected and forgotten for decades, the birthplace of George Orwell, the author of "Animal Farm" and "1984", is finally set for a makeover.

Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 in Motihari, a tiny town in the impoverished eastern Indian state of Bihar, near the border with Nepal.

His father, Richard W. Blair, worked at the time as an agent in the opium department of the Indian Civil Service during the height of British rule over the subcontinent.

For years, the family's simple white colonial bungalow has been left to decay; damaged in an earthquake it was an occasional home to stray animals and, more recently, a state school teacher.

Now, after years of dithering and failed attempts by Orwell enthusiasts to restore the building, the provincial government says it is coming to the rescue in a bid to lure tourists to one of the most underdeveloped areas of India.

"The house has been in a bad condition for years. The government has decided to initiate work to protect it," Bihar's art and culture secretary, Vivek Singh, told AFP.

"We will not allow George Orwell's ancestral house, where he was born, to be lost to history. The government priority is to protect it followed by renovation."

There have been false dawns for the dilapidated building before. There was a spike in interest in 2003 when celebrations were held in Motihari to mark the 100th anniversary of Orwell's birth.

A non-governmental Indian heritage foundation announced that it would renovate the house and even mooted the idea of building a museum and putting up a statue. But no progress was made.

Last year, London-based retired English professor Clive Collins and his wife Monica wrote to the district magistrate in Motihari as well as the local Rotary Club offering to renovate the house for the public good.

Singh told AFP the state government was likely to begin renovation in early 2010 after sending experts to assess what needed to be done to save the structure.

"The government has initiated the process to declare it as a protected site in early 2010 and to start renovation," he said.

Orwell lived in Motihari for a year as a child before leaving for England in 1904 with his mother and sister.

He never returned to his birthplace and died in 1950 after a life that saw him live rough in London and Paris, fight in the Spanish civil war and serve as a war-time broadcaster for the BBC.

From 1922-1927, Orwell was a member of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, now Myanmar, which was part of British India.

His time there was the inspiration for his novel "Burmese Days," a tale of intrigue set against the backdrop of the waning empire, as well as essays "A Hanging" and "Shooting an Elephant."

"Orwell had India in his blood. His mother was raised in Burma but his father spent many, many years in India," dedicated Orwell fan Jackie Jura, who runs the orwelltoday.com website, told AFP.

"Orwell cared about India all his life."

She said she was "thrilled" by the news that the Bihar government was going to establish a place of pilgrimage for Orwell fans the world over.

"I know the government has talked about this before but somehow it seems like new news," she said, adding that she felt the government was now serious about doing something.

The news comes at a time of ongoing public debate about the treatment India affords to the thousands of places of historic interest dotted around the vast country.

Hundreds of tombs of rulers, residences of prominent artists and notable buildings built during British rule have been declared as protected sites across India.

But a majority lie neglected, misused and often defaced. The Archaeological Survey of India, a custodian of the protected monuments, is often accused of failing to maintain and protect the country's heritage.