01 January 1970

A Close Connect

Literature/The Backstory

A Close Connect

When Abdullah Khan discovered that George Orwell was born in Motihari, his home town, it inspired him to become a writer

Illustration: Chaitanya Rukumpur

In the year 1993 (or maybe 94), while helping my younger brother with his English assignment, I stumbled upon a story by Eric Arthur Blair, popularly known as George Orwell. After learning that the interesting fable was part of a larger piece of work, I read Animal Farm and loved its allegorical depiction of Russia under Stalin, a perfect example of a great revolution going wrong. Then, I found out that Orwell was born in Motihari, my home district. And the discovery of this fact made me wonder if I could be an internationally acclaimed writer like him.

I wanted to be a writer even before I came to know about Orwell but then I always thought of becoming a Ved Prakash Sharma or an Ibn-e-Safi and writing pulp fiction in Hindi. Now, I aspired to write in English and something as serious as Orwell. Initially, I tried an Indian retelling of Animal Farm and Burmese Days but they didn’t come up well. After struggling for many years, I managed to write Patna Blues, a coming-of-age tale of a middle-class Bihari Muslim boy. Just after finishing my first novel, I got an assignment from The Daily Star to do a story about George Orwell’s connection with Motihari. And, during my visit to the bungalow where Orwell was born, a sudden thought struck me: What if a boy from Motihari is born in the same room where George Orwell was born? And, how will the fact of sharing the room of birth with Great Orwell will impact his life?

Past Perfect: A one-year-old George Orwell with his Indian nanny in Motihari, Bihar
Past Perfect: A one-year-old George Orwell with his Indian nanny in Motihari, Bihar Courtesy: Abdullah Khan

Based on these basic premises, I began to think of the character, his backstory, his love life and his life’s journey. This is how I found my protagonist, Aslam Sher Khan.

Subsequently, a few years later, I chanced to see a photo of one-year-old Orwell with his Indian nanny in Motihari. I enquired about that nanny from many people who were interested in Orwell’s legacy but nobody knew anything about her. Finally, I decided to make up a backstory of that lady. I also decided to fictionally explore how deeply connected she was with toddler Orwell and how she would have reacted when the Orwells suddenly left for England. And, this lady became an important character in my new novel.

Many of you must be wondering how Orwell’s nanny can be a character in a novel set in the present times. If I respond to this question then it will be a spoiler for many who intend to read this book.

Abdullah Khan is the author of Patna Blues and A Man From Motiharim Motihari