If you thought Lucknow was only about Imambada and Residency when it comes to sight seeing, you have got it wrong. La Martiniere College, the boys’ school located off Lohia Path, should feature high on your list of must-see places in the city. And there isn’t one reason why.
HOW COOL IS A SCHOOL WITH SO MUCH HISTORY!
We can’t possibly tell you everything that needs to be told about the history of this place without ending up writing a book here! But let’s just say this place is a treasure trove for history buffs. Built in the late 1700s, the boys’ school was the country home of Major General Claude Martin, before it was turned into a school in 1845. It was the scene of a great deal of action during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857 (or the Mutiny, as some call it), when the school was just a decade old. In 1935, the school was awarded battle honours for its role in the defence of Lucknow, the only school to have been so honoured (the only other is a McGill University in Canada for its role in the Great War).
NOT A HISTORY BUFF? YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE WITH THE ARCHITECTURE THEN
The main building of the school, called the Constantia, is the picture perfect backdrop for a touristy selfie, with stone lions on the turrets, Greek statues on the ramparts, gargoyles and fluted pillars. The pillars are hollow and go down to the river bed and are open on top so hot air rises only to be cooled and come down again. From the centre of what was once a lake, rises a solid fluted column with a Moorish cupola known as the ‘Laat’. The rooms are decorated in bas-reliefs and other Italian styled ornamentation so that you could forget for a moment that you’re in the Lucknow of Nawabs, and mistake this to be a monument in France.
The school, and the erstwhile estate of Major General Claude Martin is also littered with art and antiquities like paintings and stained glass windows in the chapel, among so much more.
FOR THE LITERARY MINDED
The school has been immortalized in numerous fictional writings. In Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel Kim the protagonist’s school is a fictional creation modeled on the real La Martinière. La Martinière Lucknow is discussed in Qurratulain Hyder’s magnum opus Aag Ka Darya. The Indian writer Allan Sealy, a former pupil of the school, set his first novel Trotter-Nama in the old house, which he renamed as Sans Souci (carefree).
FOR THE FILMI FOLKS
The Boys’ College has been the setting for innumerable films like Kim, starring Errol Flynn, Shakespeare Wallah and the 1965 Merchant Ivory production, Shatranj Ke Khiladi by Satyajit Ray. Popular Bollywood movies like Sunny Deol’s Gadar: Ek Prem Katha and Anwar have been shot here. More recently, Always Kabhi Kabhi, the directorial debut of Roshan Abbas (an alumnus) was extensively shot here. The school also features prominently in Stones Of The Raj: The French Connection, a 1997 documentary for Channel 4 television by William Dalrymple.
GHOSTS AND MART YARNS
If you dig horror tales, there’s plenty for you at La Martiniere. The numerous stories of the place, almost all of them unverifiable, are called ‘Mart Yarns’. The statues dancing on the turrets on specific nights, the ghost of old teachers roaming with canes smacking an obliging bottom are added to the ones of boys swimming upriver to meet damsels in the girls school and of the scaling of the Laat by a student (this one got verified recently when the Laat was scaled after about a century for routine maintenance work only to find the name of a 12-year-old boy from 1919 etched on the top).
MANNA AND THE MARTINIANS
As legendary as the school is the canteen food – the very famous bun-kebabs. The school canteen has featured in many food shows for serving kebabs and sheermaals. The school tuck shop management has stayed in the same hands since time immemorial with the result that ex-students of all ages look forward to Sunday Bunday when the canteen is thrown open for all with bite-sized samosas and potato curry on buns called BunTacks.
By Nitin Prakash for Now Lucknow
Nitin, a businessman and self professed foodie and bibliophile is first and foremost a Lakhnawi at heart. The magic words to get any work done by him is (a) food (b) books and (c) Lucknow