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George Orwell’s birthplace in India to become Gandhi memorial

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The long-neglected birthplace of British novelist George Orwell in eastern India is to be developed into a memorial — just not one dedicated to the writer, officials said Monday.

Instead, the land attached to Orwell’s house in Bihar’s Motihari city will be developed in memory of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, said local officials who laid a foundation stone at the site over the weekend.

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The U-turn caused consternation among fans of the writer of such novels as Animal Farm and 1984, who said they could not understand the decision.

“It is strange to develop it as a Gandhi memorial instead of an Orwell memorial,” Deo Priya Mukherjee, who heads an Orwell commemorative committee in the state, told AFP.

Orwell, born as Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903, lived in Motihari for a year as a child before leaving for England in 1904 with his mother and sister.

His father, Richard W. Blair, worked for the Indian Civil Service during the time of British rule over the subcontinent.

For years, the family’s simple white colonial bungalow has been left to decay.

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It was damaged in an earthquake in 1934 and has since served as an occasional home to stray animals, and more recently Orwell’s statue at the site of the house was vandalised.

In 2009, the state government announced a makeover for the site but nothing was done.

Then at the weekend, Prakash Asthana, chairman of the local municipal council, announced a park would be developed at the site to commemorate Gandhi.

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Gandhi loyalists said they were also surprised by the move.

Razi Ahmad, secretary of a museum housing Gandhi memorabilia in Patna, said using the birthplace of Orwell to honour Gandhi would be contrary to the ideals of the Indian freedom fighter.

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“Land which has been long associated with the birthplace of George Orwell should not be disturbed to develop a park in memory of Gandhi,” he told AFP.

Orwell wrote admiringly of Gandhi in his 1949 essay “Reflections on Gandhi” but also criticised his famously spartan lifestyle.

“No doubt alcohol, tobacco and so forth are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid,” Orwell wrote.

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