Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Major Langlands - A life worth living

Forgive me to start with that I did not know of Major Geoffrey Langlands till I saw his photo with the British High Commissioner in Pakistan a couple of days ago in the newspaper receiving the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) for his commendable achievement in the field of education in Pakistan. And I think I wasn't the only one for not knowing this great man who lived here in our country for almost his life and cared for our children.

As I know now Major Langlands came to the British India in 1944 and then after partition continued to serve in the Pakistan Army till 1953. That was even before I was born. He then joined the famous Aitcheson College of Lahore and taught there for another 25 years. He then left for the final frontiers of Pakistan’s north to become the first principal of Cadet College Razmak in the North Waziristan, rather he was the founding pillar of the college. 

Imagine a man abandoning his comfortable post and abode in Lahore and choosing to go to one of the remotest and difficult areas of Pakistan where even no Pakistani would be willing to go and teach. But Major Langlands spent another 10 years of life there. And as if that wasn't enough. He had yet other goalposts to reach to and more difficult places to go to give out his everything to the children of Chitral. He founded the Langlands School and College in 1989 and is managing the facility since then.

The royal honour also coincided with his 93rd birthday. The British High Commissioner Adam Thomson paid rich tribute to Major Langlands while handing him over the royal honours and said, “It is with great respect that I present Major Langlands with this honour today. This is a testament to the dedication that Major Langlands has shown to improve the quality of education in Pakistan. The fact that at 93 years of age he is still devoted to his job as Principal of Langlands School and College in Chitral is a reflection of this commitment.” Earlier the government of Pakistan also announced the prestigious Hilal-e-Imtiaz award to the educationist, which he will receive on 23rd March 2011.

Major Langlands’ journey to the remote areas of Pakistan is long and arduous. Form a math teacher, he chose to wear the heavy black boots. He continued to do so till 1953 as I said earlier and then turned to teaching once again. The then army chief, General Ayub Khan arranged a job for him at the Chief College (the Aitcheson College is commonly known so) and he took up his love for mathematics once again. He must have taught many students that later rose to distinction and high positions, Imran Khan is one that he often cites. Even now sitting in the cold Hindu Kush region with Trich Mir (the highest mountain of the area) overlooking, his attire is remarkable. He wears a blazer, polished shoes and matching necktie. Living by a small bungalow by his school, he walks up to his school every morning with same pace and gait since he came here.

The struggle, dedication and love of Major Langlands for education and that too for the children of the remote areas of Pakistan reminds me of a few lines from the War of the Worlds audio:

There must be something worth living for,

There must something worth trying for,

Even something worth dying for…

And I wonder how these lines perfectly describe the life of Major Langlands. Himself orphaned at the age of 12, he dedicated his life for children far from the home where he once played with his kind, he has tried to educate the children of our land, which most of us have never heard off. He chose to give away his entire life to us rather than going back to England and live a life in his own environs. He continues to improve the education standards of his pupils which is exactly the motto of his school” "There is always room for improvement.” His best students have gone on to scholarships in Lahore, doctorates in Australia and exchange programmes in America. 

There were times when foreigners were discouraged to stay in the northern areas owing to the ongoing militancy, but the local administration made an exception for Major Langlands, as he had become an indispensable figure in the area. People of the area respect him and love him to be within them. The District Coordination Officer of Chitral remarks, “"Major Langlands is a living legend. He has made an extraordinary contribution, a portrait of dedication. What he has been assigned by Allah almighty, he has done with all his energies."

Now at 93, Major Langlands however needs rest as he has not been himself lately. Living at this age with a fragile body in the snow cold Chitral is becoming tougher for him. While a retirement house waits at Aitcheson College Lahore, he is looking for an equally devoted replacement for him. "I will teach until I am no longer able," says Major Langlands. "But it would be nice if someone takes over from me for future." But his is skeptical and keeping his fingers crossed.

Final goodbyes: female students cry as the Major is handed his leaving card (Pic: Paul Grover)

Update: Goodbye to Major Geoffrey Langlands of the Hindu Kush