“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. Langland, 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 Langland 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. He raved about how Christmas used to be celebrated but half of it was lost due to his feeble voice that could hardly be understood.
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.
Lawyer Ali Sabtain Fazli, a student of Langland, regularly visits him on weekends. He said Langland was 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. He is a very pious man. He has always been upright and stood by his principles,” he said.
Langlands selflessly devoted himself to empower his fellow-beings. Langlands was awarded the Sitara-i-lmtiaz, HiIal-i-Imtiaz, Order of St. Michael and St. George, Order of British Empire, OBE by Her Majesty the Queen of England.
“As far as the British Awards are concerned, he was asked as to where he would like to receive the Awards? If he 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 in Islamabad. The OBE i.e. the Order of British Empire was given in a ceremony at Aitchison College,” Fazli said.
He visited Mr. Langlands on Christmas eve and presented him a gift hamper which included honey, scarf and chocolates. “It is a precedent on every Christmas that I always present gift hamper as a token of love for him.
“The scarf was bought by my wife and Langlands was very happy to wear that scarf. He is true legend and a selfless person who spent most part of his life in Pakistan to serve the people,” Fazli said.
A Christmas tree has been placed in Langland House which has made the place more attractive.
The interview ended on a positive note with memorable photos being taken. Langland smilingly said there is one thing that he could not master and these were the complicated cell phones. It may be a small thing for us but for him it could be the last frontier he could not conquer.
EMANUEL SARFRAZ, FAIZAN WARRAICH