In the 18th century, the capital of the Kingdom of Oudh, Lucknow, had become the wealthiest city in India, and the most international.
Merchants, adventurers, entrepreneurs from all the nations of the Western World had settled there. Notably, a man from Marseilles named Martin. He became close friends with the kings of Oudh, was largely rewarded and left behind a fabulous fortune. He allocated the greater part of it for Lucknow’s residents’ happiness. He founded the La Martiniere College, which to this day remains one of the best in India. For that, he built a sumptuous palace, which I took much pleasure in visiting.
Beforehand, we had crossed the park of La Martiniere, where some 1500 students played; all dressed impeccably, all smiles, polite and welcoming.
Arrived the 1857 Indian Rebellion. The English governor of Lucknow, Lawrence, had learned through his spies of what was to come. And so, he had instructed that all British citizens be gathered at the Residency. The Residency was a vast enclosed compound with both residential and administrative buildings, barracks, and warehouses, all built by the British. Thus the students of La Martiniere, the teenagers, found themselves within the walls of the Residency.
The rebellion erupted. The rebels, under the orders of the Begum Hazrat Mahal and of the Maulvi of Faizabad, laid siege to the Residency for 80 days. Hundreds of thousands of Indians against a few Brits, badly defended by ramparts, feeble and not very resistant, but well armed. All participated in the defence, and notably so the students of La Martniere. These teenagers had become overnight men fighting alongside soldiers and other adults with courage, an extraordinary abnegation. Many died from their wounds.
I was very moved to read the names of these forty victims on a great marble plaque in the vestibule of La Martniere. I thought of these boys that fate and courage had transformed into heroes, and I must they that I felt their presence quite strongly.