Celebrating 100th Christmas
‘Woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Geoffrey Douglas Langlands has these words inscribed outside his house in Aitchision College. He desires that these words should be inscribed on his epitaph after his death. Even at the age of 100 Langlands still feels that there is more to be done and still miles to go before he sleeps.
The cheerful blue eyed legend is getting ready to celebrate his 100th Christmas this year. Langlands, who is former principal of Aitchison College turned 100 about four months ago.
As The Nation correspondents entered his room in Bahawalpur House (Now named Langlands House) the living legend was reading or trying to read newspaper with a magnified glass. He looked up without any surprise on his face. “I am good, fine. You come again. Good,” Langland said in a feeble voice with his eyes shining on receiving the visitors. When our business cards were presented to him he took time to read them with his magnifying glass. The room is simply furnished and is adorned with pictures of his fruitful life in Pakistan.
Langland knew it was Christmas time as he was getting more visitors than usual. His students and friends keep coming to meet him in morning and in late afternoon. Timings for meeting him are fixed and you have to get an appointment. Christmas is a time of homecoming and Aitchison College is his home as after coming to sub continent he never went back to England. “This is my home and I will be buried here in Lahore. I am old and cannot travel to Chitral, which I also love very much,” Langland said. He said his students had planned Christmas for him and he was expecting them.
Langlands was born on October 21st, 1917 in Yorkshire, England ten minutes younger than his identical twin brother John Langlands. He was lucky to get free education at Kings College, Taunton. Somerset, England and started teaching in class 2 of a private school in Croydon.
When the World War II broke out in September, 1939 Langlands joined the British Army in the ordinary rank and became a Sergeant in the British Army.
In 1943, he was commissioned as a Captain and volunteered for service in the Indian Army. He was transferred to the Pakistan Army. In 1953 General Ayub Khan the then C-in-C of the Pakistan Army sent for him and asked him to stay on in Pakistan by which time he had become a Major. He agreed and the General had him fixed up as a Teacher of English Language and Mathematics at Aitchison College Lahore. Soon thereafter he was made the House Master of Kelly House.
In 1954, he officiated as Headmaster of the Prep School of Aitchison and in 1974 was confirmed as the official Headmaster Prep School.
In 1979, it was demanded of him by the then Minister NWFP to give up his comfortable job at Aitchison and take on a more challenging job at RAZMAK Cadet College, deep in the Tribal area as its Principal.
His student famous lawyer Ali Sabtain Fazli while talking about him said he is a staunch believer in what William Shedd had said that ‘A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not that ships are built for’. “He took the uphill task, and was even kidnapped by the tribesmen who held him hostage, but his captors treated him decently, even insisting he join them for some rifle practice. Maj Langlands would say “It wasn’t bad, they were very polite once they found out I was 71 and before I left they insisted on their photo taken with me.”
Fazli said he served there till 1989 and took over as the Principal of Sayurj Public School Chitral. “Langlands developed the school, expanded it, purchased land for it and made constructions thereon from funds raised by him. “The school was renamed after him and is now called the Langlands School & College, Chitral where he served till the age of 95 plus,” he said.
Fazli is running a trust named Langlands Endowment Trust. “Langlands was my teacher, my mentor and a person who impressed me most not only while I was a student at this institution but also in my life thereafter. He is a very pious man. He has always been upright and stood by his principles,” he said.
Fazli said Langlands suffered a stroke in March this year. “Initially, his right side was totally paralyzed. The doctors had said that he would, with physiotherapy and good care, be able to move his right leg but as far as his right arm is concerned, that will probably remain paralyzed, but with will power and determination and his perseverance, he has not only been able to move his right leg but has also been moving his right arm and has even been able to feed himself.
“The Principal and the College have taken great care of him. There are physiotherapists working round the clock on him,” Fazli said.
Langlands has indeed created many ripples through his lifelong contribution to humanity by selflessly devoting himself to empower his fellow-beings. He has indeed made this world a better place. Maj. Langlands was awarded the Sitara-i-lmtiaz, HiIilal-i-Imtiaz, Order of St. Michael and St. George, Order of British Empire, OBE by Her Majesty the Queen of England.
Fazli quoted from John Qunray Adams ‘as much as your actions have inspired others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are indeed a great Leader’.
As far as the British Awards are concerned, he was asked as to where he would like to receive the Awards? If lie were to go to England, the Awards would be bestowed upon him by Her Majesty the Queen of England but if he opted to stay in Pakistan, it would be the British High Commission, who would do the same.
The Order of St Michael and St George was given to him by the British High Commission in a function organized at the Commission in Islamabad. I was present on that occasion and felt very proud of him. Likewise, when the OBE i.e. the Order of British Empire was given, the ceremony took place at the Bahawalpur House here in Aitchison College, the British High Commission presented the Award to him.
Ahmad Sabtain Fazli who also under Langlands house mastership in Kelly House remembers him as a man treating his students as a part of his family.
“Apart from English he took great interest in extra-curricular activities and taught us chess, bridge and photography,” Ahmed Fazli said.
When his servant Bilal introduced us he looked up with a smile and was not startled at all. Though old and very weak his blue eyes were shining.