G.D. Langlands, a legend passes

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Major (retd) Geoffrey Douglas Langlands, formerly of the British Army and a renowned educationalist has died in Lahore at the age of 101. He predated Pakistan, landing in India with the British Army and then deciding to stay on after he retired, going on to run the Langlands School in Chitral for 24 years. The school started with 80 students and now has over 1000 annually, providing a quality education in an area that still lacks many of the basic civic amenities. He spent 10 years in North Waziristan 1979-89 running the then-new Cadet College but his first posting in the education sector was at Aitchison College where he taught the likes of Imran Khan and other young men who are today pillars of the state and the Establishment. After his eventual retirement, and a string of honours from both the government of his own country and Pakistan, he lived out his days at his old alma mater, Aitchison College.

‘The Major’ as he was known to one and all though not always to his face, was probably the last of his kind. Those few British that chose to stay on after Partition are for the most part dead themselves, and the handful that might still be alive have inconspicuous lives. The two sisters that married local men in Bahawalpur pre-Partition were until a few years ago occasionally sighted in the bazaar – but they are now gone as well.

It would be all too easy to dismiss Langlands as a colonial anachronism, a dinosaur long past his sell-by date but that would be a mistake. His brand of education may have been basic but when it was about the only education on offer in deepest Chitral it was worth its weight in gold. In his prime he could be a fearsome termagant, and his relations with women were not always the most harmonious.

Any deficits aside he worked for much of his life, whether in the military or in formal education, for the betterment of his fellow man. He never sought wealth or fame instead to try to do his best, and it mattered not that he was British – at least it mattered little to him – but it mattered greatly that young men went out into the world with the rudiments of wisdom and that those rudiments had been imparted by him and those that taught under him.

Thomas Drew, the current British Ambassador to Pakistan Tweeted this – “Pakistan has lost a great friend and teacher of generations of its students. We today mourn Major Geoffrey Langlands CMG MBE HI SPk who passed away in Lahore aged 101.” Those 30 words are probably as much as The Major would have wished as an epitaph; the limelight was never for him. Pakistan has indeed lost a great friend and teacher, and we along with countless thousands of others, mourn his passing. RIP, Major.