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Meet the first girl student of Boys Mart!

Updated: Nov 30, 2019 18:16 IST
Penelope Anine Doutre at the La Martiniere College Principal’s Residence, in Lucknow .
Penelope Anine Doutre at the La Martiniere College Principal’s Residence, in Lucknow . (Rajeev Mullick)

LUCKNOW: She is the first girl to be officially inducted as a student in the elite all boys’ institution, La Martiniere College. With her head full of fond memories, 75-year-old Penelope Anine Doutre’ is a reporter’s delight, reeling out anecdotes and interesting facts of her days at the all-boys’ school. She feels privileged to be the first girl studying in Class 12 at La Martinière Boys’ School way back in 1960-61.

In Lucknow to attend the 150th year celebrations of La Martiniere Girls’ College, Penelope Anine Doutre’ said she had fond memories of studying at the all boys’ institution. “Being the first girl at La Martiniere College was a unique distinction. It was an exciting and interesting experience for me. I am sure it was difficult for teachers who had only taught boys, to have a girl in the class as well,” she said, smiling at the memories.

“Often, I was asked to stand outside the class while the boys were being given a dressing down. Then, I would be asked to come into class. Even though I was equally responsible for some of the pranks played on teachers, the boys got blamed always. Tessa Dignum was the other girl who followed me,” she recalled.

Talking about her early school days, she said, “I arrived in Lucknow in May, 1946, when my father, Meredith Doutre’, became the first Indian vice-principal or first assistant of La Martineire College, as they were called earlier. I was 2-year-old then and we lived in the vice-principal’s residence. My father was also an old pupil of La Martineire College.”

Talking about her father, she said, “Dad became the first Indian Principal of La Martinière Boys’ school in 1951 and Miss Gressaux became the principal of La Martiniere Girls’ school. Both she and Dad were the first Indian principals and both were very proud to be the first ‘desi’ principals of their schools. From the time these institutions opened in 1845 and 1879, both schools had principals imported from England”.

While living on the La Martinière Estate, I had fabulous opportunities to develop skills in swimming, athletics, hockey, golf and tennis. Having access to swimming pools developed my ability to swim back-stroke and freestyle to the high standard required to represent the state in these events at local and state level and win, she said.

“I received my Kindergarten education at Christ Church School from 1947-51. In 1952, I changed schools and moved to La Martinière from Standard 2 until 1959 Senior Cambridge. I was lucky to have Queenie Barnes as my first class teacher in Standard 2 and Heather Ludwig as my first music teacher. They were both excellent teachers,” she wrote in the annual La Martiniere gazette.

“I was in Martin House, as my Dad and my aunts had been before me. You were always put into your family House. In 1959, my last year doing Senior Cambridge, I had Mrs Hollow, an amazing and brilliant teacher as well as the assistant principal. She taught us English, History, Geography, Art, Scripture and Botany. The only subjects she didn’t teach us were Biology, Hindi and Maths. She provided us with superb models of how to write English, History, Geography and Botany essays and responses,” she said.

Doutre’ came back to Lucknow after several decades. “The last time I was here, was way back in 1974. It is so nice to be here in the city where I did my entire schooling. This time, I am here to be a part of LMGC 150th year celebrations and 137th Athletics Meet at La Martinere College. I remember, in our time, we had fabulous PT displays on Sports Day including wonderful pyramid displays, figure marching and gymnastics mat work. I was always an enthusiastic participant in all these. We actually began each morning with PT,” she said.

During her school days, Prize Day and Founder’s Day were always joint events: attended by both boys and girls. “We also had dances together after these occasions in Spence Hall with plenty of French chalk on the floor. The 1950s saw the filming of ‘Kim’ at La Martinière College by Metro Goldwyn Meyer, who have since then presented a prize for Histrionics each year to the best male actor.

“When I think back on my life in both La Martinière Girls’ and Boys’ Schools, I think how lucky I was to have lived such a rich, varied and wonderful life filled with so many experiences and opportunities,” she said.

Back in her room...

When Penelope Anine Doutre’, 75, arrived in Lucknow, she was allotted the same room where she spent her childhood days with her father, Meredith Doutre’, the first Indian principal of the institution.

“What a gesture it was from one Martinian to another. I’m living my chilldhood days every day for nearly three weeks now. I recall the good old days, the grounds where I learnt to play several sports with the boys,” said Doutre’, praising La Martineire College principal Carlyle McFarland’s touching gesture of making arrangements for her to stay in the principal’s residence.

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