India – History and Society – for those who wish to think and learn for themselves
Claude Martin was one of the more successful and interesting figures of Imperial History in India.
Born in Lyon in France in 1735, he joined the French forces in India and served as a junior army officer under General Dupleix. Unfortunately, this period coincided with several defeats of the French forces by the British in the Carnatic (modern day Arcot, Tamil Nadu and Mysore). The French were soon restricted to minor territories and outposts such as Pondicherry and Machulipatnam.
Claude Martin soon found himself in the hands of the British forces and sensing how things were going he joined the Bengal Army of the British forces. Soon, he was being promoted in view of his own strategic and political skills. He was a survivor and a very good one at that.
In 1776, Martin was appointed to a post in the court of Nawab Shujaudullah, the Nawab of Oudh (Avadh, modern day central Uttar Pradesh). He received a rich salary, and soon became one of the biggest landlords in India. He had a love of the arts and architecture. Soon he was designing buildings such as the Constantia in Lucknow, which still stand today.
Martin would never return to France although he remained a French national till his death in 1800. He lies buried in Constantia. He never married although he did have a series of mistresses, who adopted Indian and Islamic customs. He wished to leave a legacy and wished to be remembered long after he was gone. This he achieved by leaving behind a series of buildings principally in Lucknow. He also founded seven schools, named after him (La Martiniere) in Calcutta, Lucknow and Lyon. He wished that children of all races and nationalities attend the schools. Despite this, soon the British had made his schools exclusively for the British and Europeans. It was only in 1935, that Indians started getting admitted to the schools again.
The La Martiniere schools of India remain premier institutions. Several leading politicians, industrialists and sports personalities have been at these schools. Former pupil Chandan Mitra’s book Constant Glory is an interesting read.
La Martiniere of Lucknow was the scene of the siege of Lucknow during the Indian War of Independence in 1857. The staff and pupils of the school stood with the British forces in the defence of the British Residency. For this epic defence, the school and pupils were honoured by the Queen. In 1932, the school was further rewarded by the British Monarchy with a unique honour to display a special flag and coat of arms in recognition of the defence of 1857.
The village of Martin Purva, the locality in which La Martiniere, Lucknow is situated, lies next to a golf course. Several leading Indian golfers (Vijay Kumar) and caddies learnt their trade here.
La Martiniere, Lucknow has featured on several occassions in cinema including Kim (starring Errol Flynn), Shakespearewallah, Shatranj ke Khiladi and Anwar.