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Major Langlands’ ‘great game’

January 09, 2019

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—File Photo
—File Photo

PESHAWAR: On August 12, 1947, two days before the creation of Pakistan, a captain of British Army Geoffrey Douglas Langlands arrived in Rawalpindi after a three days long train journey from Bangalore. The captain was loaned to Pakistani army.

The journey, Mr Langlands then took in those uncertain times led him to a momentous association with Pakistan that lasted till he breathed his last on January 2, 2019 in Lahore. His 71 years stay in Pakistan took him from a stint with the army’s selection board to the teaching at Lahore’s Aitchison College, Cadet College Razmak in North Waziristan and his eponymous Langlands Schools and College in Chitral, educating a generation of Pakistanis including Prime Minister Imran Khan.

I met the Major in Lahore on a hot April afternoon in 2013, where he had retired after teaching at his eponymous Chitral’s school for over 23 years. Aitchison’s sprawling and leafy campus was completely deserted as I made my way to the Bahawalpur House, a red brick building to the left of college’s main entrance, where the Major was living then.

The Major, then at 95, was very alert and attentive to detail and reminisced in great length about his life and its ups and downs.

He had arrived in India in 1944 at the height of Quit India Movement on the prodding of another English officer and upon his arrival he was posted to the army selection board. Three years later came the partition, which landed him on a job with Pakistan Army. He remained a member of the army selection board till 1953, when he was told that his contract was over.

“General Ayub Khan sent for me and said that my contract with the army is coming to an end but asked me to not to go back,” he said, adding that three days later he was given a teaching position at Lahore’s Aitchison College. At the Aitchison College, the Major taught a large number of Pakistani politicians, generals and elite including Prime Minister Imran Khan. ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chaudary Nisar Ali Khan were also among his students.

“I was Imran Khan’s class teacher when he was in class VIII and everybody knew that he was going to be an outstanding cricketer. I persuaded him to spend most of his time on class work. At the beginning of the year, he was at the bottom of the class and by the end of year because of my pushing he came half way but later in senior school he failed ninth grade, forcing his father to take him away to Worcester Grammar School where too he failed and came back to a missionary institution of Lahore and later went to Oxford,” said the Major.

His Aitchison stint came to an end in 1979, when the erstwhile Frontier government offered him a job at Cadet College Razmak. He spent the next decade in North Waziristan teaching at the college.

“The college was completely changed under my ward and it produced about 200 army officers,” he said. He also had narrated an incident in Waziristan, wherein he was kidnapped for a brief period as a local tribal elder wanted to push the government to change election result by taking him hostage.

A panicked government started searching another job for a foreigner, which took him further high up in the Hindukush to Chitral, where the then deputy commissioner Javed Majeed was searching for principal for Sayurj Public School in 1989. The school was later named after the Major.

In 2013, the Major handed over the reins of school to British journalist and writer Carey Schofield and retired to Lahore albeit to return briefly in 2015 following a row with her, which took about eight months to resolve. He was very happy with the role of Langlands School in Chiral as it led to opening of other private schools in the remote district and brought an educational revolution.

Major Langlands never married. “Prior to World War II there were two girls, who wanted to marry me but during the war I came to India. When I was teaching at Aitchison, a Pakistani woman wanted to marry me but when she came to know that I was not going back to England, she decided against the marriage,” the Major added.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2019

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