'Orwell house' may be long gone

A campaign to preserve the house where George Orwell was said to have lived when he served in Burma may have hit a snag.

The house long associated with the celebrated British author of Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four may be the wrong one, according to The Irrawaddy magazine.

Some local residents are now casting doubt on the true provenance of the house, and it is possible that the building where Orwell once lived no longer exists, it said.

The colonial homes of British officers, including Orwell's, once dotted the landscape in Katha, a colonial outpost on the Irrawaddy River about 13 hours north of Mandalay by train. Those dwellings have since been left in varying states of disrepair after decades of neglect in independent Burma, now known as Myanmar.

But Orwell's old house is no longer among them, Katha resident Nyo Ko Naing told Irrawaddy correspondent Nyein Nyein.

Katha and the house lived in by Orwell, known then as Eric Blair, were immortalised in the author's first novel, Burmese Days.

A local graphic designer, cartographer and Orwell buff, Nyo Ko Naing has closely studied life in 1920s Burma, where Eric Blair served as a district superintendent of the Indian Imperial Police.

Nyo Ko Naing told The Irrawaddy this week that he "was wrong about Orwell’s home", claiming that the red house he and others had pegged as the writer's was actually the residence of a district commissioner.

Orwell's old home was destroyed in an earthquake in 1986, he insists.

"I realised after studying the old maps and through more conversations with the elders who have lived here over the last 80 years," he said.

He bases his conclusion on an old map he found in October. Dating from 1911-12, it shows the building plots with the titles of their British colonial residents' rankings. Nyo Ko Naing said such homes typically were "inherited" by the succeeding officer when a colonial official left his post.

Orwell was the district superintendent police officer and local residents knew him by his title, DSP, and his residence was referred to in Burmese as Eain Ni, meaning "red home".

Orwell's old home and the still-standing house of the British deputy commissioner were constructed in the same style and in close proximity to one another, possibly leading to the confusion, said Nyo Ko Naing.

The deputy commissioner's old home is now owned by the township's administrative department, with some civil servants and their families living there.

A campaign pushing to renovate the building thought to be Orwell's began in February after it was learned that the structure would be torn down to make way for a skate park.

But Katha residents told The Irrawaddy this week that only the concrete foundation of Orwell's old home remains, located about 30 metres away from the building long believed to have been his residence.

Only the house’s chimney was left standing after the quake, but that vestige was torn down in 2005 when authorities let civil servants build on the surrounding land.

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