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Travels through the Hindi belt: Love for golf saves Lucknow's Martin Purva from unemployment as locals tee off careers as caddies

Editor's note: This is part of a multi-article series on the jobs crisis in the three states crucial to Lok Sabha election 2019: Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.  

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In the heart of Lucknow lies a little-known urban village, hushed and secluded, devoid of the buzz of the rest of the city. It goes by the name Martin Purva. It is probably the only place in India where Tiger Woods is a bigger hero than Virat Kohli. Every alternate home in the village has somebody employed as a caddie at the massive golf course situated along the village.

 Travels through the Hindi belt: Love for golf saves Lucknows Martin Purva from unemployment as locals tee off careers as caddies

Caddie Durgesh Kumar Rawat from Martin Purva village in Uttar Pradesh. Image credit Parth MN

Durgesh Kumar Rawat, 24, conducts two sessions a day – one early morning and one in the evening. “In between, I do a private job that pays me Rs 7,000 a month,” he says, armed with a golf club, standing on a backdrop of the lush green golf course that spreads out like a trackless desert. “During my sessions, I work as a caddie for people who turn up to play golf, and I get to practice my skills in the process as well.”

Every day, fancy cars pull up outside the golf course, from which emerge the IAS and IPS officers, along with the businessmen of Lucknow. They march on to the golf course, clad in immaculate sports gear and slick shades. Their spotless shoes shine even more with the reflection of the sun mercilessly beating down.

Simultaneously, the caddies living in Martin Purva walk a few hundred meters to the golf course. Their job is to carry the kit bags of those who have turned up to play golf and be ready with spare golf balls as they meticulously navigate from one hole to another.

“For every round that lasts for an hour and a half, a caddie makes Rs 120 bucks,” says Rawat. “And behind every practice session, a caddie makes Rs 100. We do one in the morning and one in the evening, and we make Rs 8,000-10,000 a month.”

In the meantime, an IAS officer positions himself over the ball. Hunched over, he adjusts his hat, tightens the gloves, and perfects his grip on the golf club. Nicely poised, he takes a wild swing. The ball is launched a few hundred meters away, disappearing into the bushes. He starts walking towards the next hole. Rawat picks up his kit bag and follows him. “While conducting these sessions, I also play from time to time,” he adds. “We start off as caddies but graduate to being professional players. If we perform well, our secretary helps us financially to participate in the tournaments across India. We can follow our passion and make money as well.”

The village with just over 2000 votes, Martin Purva’s affair with golf is owed to Lucknow’s French connection. Claude Martin, born in 1735 in the French town of Lyon, was posted in India as part of the French Army. That was the time when the British Army had been expanding in India, restricting the French to minor territories like Pondicherry. Claude Martin, captured by the Brits, agreed to join their forces and was posted in the court of Shujaudullah, who was the Nawab of Oudh, or Avadh, as central Uttar Pradesh is known today.

The golf course along Martin Purva village in the heart of Lucknow. Image credit Parth MN

The golf course along Martin Purva village in the heart of Lucknow. Image credit Parth MN

During his time in India, Claude Martin founded educational institutes in Kolkata and Lucknow, named after himself, La Martiniere. He would never return to France. He died in 1800 and is buried at the Constantia House, a grand building he himself designed, which is part of the La Martiniere College in Lucknow.

The institutes in Lucknow are located along the golf course, where leading golfers and caddies in India have learnt their art. To the west of Constantia, where Claude Martin lived, lies the urban village, which, was his servant quarter, hence called Martin Purva. The small settlement has gradually expanded into the urban village that it is today. Blessed by the proximity to the golf course, residents started working on it to make extra money and were eventually seduced by the sport.

Living in Martin Purva, says Rawat, you keep listening to names like Jyoti Randhawa, Jeev Milkha Singh or Aditi Ashok. “It is impossible to not be fascinated by the game. It is a part of us,” he says, adding he was overjoyed when Tiger Woods recently won a major title after 11 years. “Tiger is a hero.”

A saunter through the narrow alleys of Martin Purva is enough to comprehend their love for golf. It is not uncommon to stumble upon a Tiger Woods poster on the ground-storeyed concrete walls of the houses. Little souvenirs and miniature golf balls decorate the modest homes, which have a golf club, proudly parked in the windows for people to see.

Even as Uttar Pradesh grapples with the crisis of unemployment, this little corner in Lucknow remains fairly immune from it. The golf course has been employing at least one member from nearly every household in Martin Purva. Some of them have spent decades here, witnessing the change in the landscape in front of their eyes.

Chandra Kumar Yadav, 49, has been turning up at the golf course since 1984. “I started off as a caddie, just like every other boy,” he says. “Today, I work here as a caddie master. I rose up the ranks, played professional golf and participated in different championships in India.”

Yadav, as caddie master, has the task to supervise other caddies and ensure they do not make a mistake. He, therefore, has relatively more time to waste on a journalist. “They are well trained, and they have a passion for golf,” he says, keeping one eye on the caddies. “After all, how many people of our economic strata in India get to do what we want to do?”

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Updated Date: May 12, 2019 10:41:07 IST