- A Tribute to Major Geoffrey Langlands
The morning of the 2nd of January, 2019, should have been one of optimism, hope, and joy for the new year that had just commenced. There were high hopes for 2019 in store. Unfortunately, that morning was met with melancholy, over the demise of one of Pakistan’s greatest educationalists, Major Geoffrey Langlands. The ex-Aitchison teacher took credit for having taught some of Pakistan’s most prominent individuals, from Farooq Leghari to Zafarullah Khan Jamali to Chaudhary Nisar to Imran Khan.
The Major was also a former teacher of my father’s. I had heard a plethora of different stories about the man – he was a stern teacher who ultimately gave his students their fondest memories of Aitchison College. When I was younger, I used to meet Mr Langlands periodically at different get-togethers held by his former students, when he was the then-principal of the eponymous Langlands School and College in Chitral. Now, here was a man who in his 80s and 90s would get around from place to place without the assistance of wheelchair and even without a walking stick from time to time. I used to wonder, “How on earth can he walk with such austerity let alone stay alive at that age?” I assumed it must have been a combination of the fitness he acquired as a member of the British army during World War II, and his time spent in Chitral, an area where the average life expectancy is in the late 80s. There was an energy about him that certainly carried on from his days in a newly founded country, Pakistan. Upon retiring from the British army, he decided to take up a teaching post at Aitchison College in 1947.
He became a prominent figure at Aitchison by teaching Pakistan’s best and brightest students, who at that time were young boys going through their respective growing pains. A lot of his former students would share stories of their experiences in Mr Langland’s class, undoubtedly a reminiscence of their school-boy shenanigans. Yet, it was those same ‘schoolboys’who would stand up in unison and greeted their former teacher with extreme warmth whenever he’d enter a room: he definitely made his presence felt amongst his company, which often times included the most powerful and influential personalities in the country. It wasn’t just his impact on them that shook a room, but the impact he had on students who didn’t grow up with the same privilege as his Aitchisonian flock. After leaving Aitchison in 1979, Mr Langlands assumed the position of Razmak Cadet College in Waziristan as its principal, where he took on the task of educating the children of tribal leaders and instating them as educated members of society. He even survived a kidnapping in the area. When asked about it, Mr Langlands chuckled and said, “It was a publicity stunt held by one of the tribal lords in the region who had lost an election. He knew that I was looked highly upon by the locals as an educationalist, as well as the then president of Pakistan Zia Ul Haq, so he kidnapped me for a few days. I never felt scared or threatened at any point. Once the tribal lord was reinstated with his original position, I was released”.
Afterwards, in 1989, Mr Langlands headed up to Chitral in the northern areas of Pakistan, where he had the seemingly impossible task of heading a school that didn’t even offer a full matriculation. Chitral, to him, boasted some of the lowest literacy levels in the country upon his arrival. He recalls meeting Benazir Bhutto, then PM of Pakistan, in the 90s, who ended up handing him a bit of funding for running the school in Chitral. One could see that injection of capital in a transcendent time where more and more girls were getting inducted in to the school and were being offered FSC through the institution as pivotal to the level of education improving in Chitral as a whole. Upon the last time I spoke to him, in 2017, it was ranked 2nd in literacy only behind Abbottabad. And in his tenure at the college, four of his students ended up pursuing their PhDs (of which one was a female student, who ended up going on a scholarship for her PhD to Australia). One of those fortunate four ended up staying back in Chitral, now teaching as a professor in a government university there – which was built during the end of his tenure there.
One can only wonder what hope there is for the education sector, and what sacrifices our teachers have made for the betterment of our lives
So, after meeting him a few times, it became clear to me that I needed to visit Mr Langlands in Chitral, and see the impact he was making on the children over there. The stories I would hear did not do enough justice for me to carry on his vision. I ended up traveling to Chitral in the summer of 2011 with a friend of mine from school to hold a football camp in which his students from the Langlands School and College and other students from the Army Corps Public School participated. The three-day camp culminated on the final day in the form of an exhibition match between the Langlands School and the Army Corps Public School, for which Mr Langlands was the guest of honour. Two years later, Mr Langlands announced his retirement and took up lodging at Bahawalpur House in Aitchison College’s campus. I would visit him periodically, and would gradually see a very vigilant individual become weakened by retirement. I even decided to revisit Chitral in 2017 to hold another football camp, but the city that once held pride in having a figure of such prominence like Mr Langlands was one surrounded by obscurity, insecurity, and deceit, namely after the infamous mosque attack earlier that year.
I returned and held a fully detailed interview with Mr Langlands shortly before his 100th birthday, to really get a glimpse of his illustrious life, from his childhood in England to his time with the British army to his educational journey in Pakistan. Hearing his thoughts about education in Pakistan is a far cry from what the country actually has been experiencing in this vertical. Less than half of teachers employed in the country are fully active teachers, and only a pittance of our country’s GDP is used for education. One can only wonder what hope there is for the education sector, and what sacrifices our teachers have made for the betterment of our lives. Some have even had the audacity to refer to Mr Langlands as an ‘extension of colonialism’ in Pakistan. A country plagued with nepotism has led to economic downfalls, and men who have succumbed to riches overnight give for a bad example for the country to follow.
But to those who have been successful and can call themselves honest individuals in all regards, there is a quote by Mr Langlands to be remembered, “There is always room for improvement”. You can improve, and so can I. Let’s hope for a better tomorrow, and a greater focus on education
“If your plan is for one year, plant rice
If your plan is for ten years, plant trees
If your plan is for 100 years, educate children”