Thursday, September 8, 2011

Major Geoffrey Langlands: A True Pakistani Hero

A few yards away from River Chitral there is a sole cottage. Life there starts at 5 am in the morning Irrespective of the severe weather in the area. It is not possible that the habitant of the house changes its routine for even a single minute, and that has been the case for over 60 years.

After waking up he enters is office, covered with books and pages, turns on the radio, listens to the 5 am bulletin of BBC World Service. Then the usual routine of putting on a blazer, tie and polishing shoes. Then he sits down to breakfast served by his loyal servant, Sufi. It is always the same: porridge ("Quaker Oats, of course"), a poached egg (the poacher bought from Selfridges) and two cups of Lipton tea. He leafs through a newspaper, which has arrived via the valley's irregular plane service and is a few days old.  He leaves for his school then, assembly is ready, and in his rock solid voice, says "Assalam-o-Alaikum" the students shout back "Waalaikum-Assalam" and thats how day actually begins. This man is 93 years old now and has spend 63 years serving the people of Pakistan and educating the children.

Much has occurred, and much has changed, since Geoffrey Langlands, a young maths teacher-turned-army commando, landed on the shores of British India on a troop carrier in 1944.When he reached the sub continent he was a young british officer serving under the command of Lord Lavot's command force with the name of Four Commando Regiment. They attacked the area of 'Dah Beepi' and were unsuccessful, although Langlands instantly fell in love with this area. He earned a commission and was sent to the Royal Indian Army. In 1947 when the Subcontinent was divided, he was made to lead the army of Indian Hindu soldiers during the riots and served in the then India but he already had decided that he will not go back to Britian and will serve for the Pakistani Army. He was one of the few British Army men who chose to stay in Pakistan.

He loved Mathematics and Algebra and that has been a part of his life for a very log time, writing with chalks on the black board of his school is his hobby. How his interest in edication started?! In 1954 he was appointed as a professor at the Aitchison College by the President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan. He served at the college for more than 25 years. Many of the famous personalities like former Prime Minister Mir Zafar Ullah Khan Jamali, legendary cricketer Imran Khan and many other political leaders and amry officers were his students. 

He had to leave the Aitchison college because the was asked to do an even tougher job, teach in the Zarmak Cadet College of North Waziristan and being a mountain climber himself and love to take the stiff challenges, he accepted this offer. Although he was kidnapped there and had to face many difficulties he stayed firm and was the Principal at the college for 10 years.

"One of the tribal leaders had just lost an election," he recalls the kidnapping with a chuckle. "They thought that if I was taken, the president might reverse the result." The kidnappers weren't bad sorts: as they traipsed across the mountains towards a lonely cabin, they insisted on a souvenir photo. "They lined up with their Kalashnikovs; then they wanted one with me in it." Later they invited Langlands to join them for target practice, handing him a gun. "It didn't seem to occur to them I could turn on them, although I would have had to kill 16 of them," he says. After six days, a group of tribal elders sprung him free. The election result stood.

In 1989 the Chitral local administration requested Geoffrey Langlands to open a school in the area which he did bythe name of Sayuraj Public School and ever since he has been running the school, for 21 years to be exact. This school has now progressed to The Langlands school and college, with the moto of "There is always room for improvement") and it is Chitral's finest school. It has 900 pupils aged between four and 18, more than a third of them girls, and a record of academic excellence. The best students have gone on to scholarships in Lahore, doctorates in Australia and exchange programmes in America. At between £3 and £6 a month, fees are low, even by local standards.

The senior school is perched on a grassy plateau outside Chitral with a stunning view – vertiginous slopes and swaying fields of wheat on one side; the white-capped Terech Mir mountain, soaring to 7,700 metres, on the other. In the dimly lit principal's office, Langlands sinks into a large chair. He is a frail but authoritative figure, with cropped silver hair sweeping across a freckled forehead and keen blue eyes that gleam like lapis lazuli.

Langlands is well connected, to say the least. Down the years he has met President Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and numerous backroom power brokers – usually with a view to extracting money for his schools. (Three years ago he persuaded Musharraf to give 50m rupees/£385,000), which forms the bulk of an interest-bearing fund that is meant to keep the school afloat, but doesn't.) Their photos adorn the mantelpiece of his home, a run-down former bank manager's bungalow threatened by a creeping tide of dust-smeared books. One photo shows a youthful Princess Diana, who visited Chitral in the early 90s. "So fresh and simple," he says.

In return, Langlands has a fierce loyalty to Pakistan. In the 1965 war with India he raised a militia among the gardeners and cooks of Aitchison. It didn't last long – when an Indian plane zoomed overhead "they hid under the banyan trees". He never married, he says, because "whether I found an English or a Pakistani lady, their first question would be when would we go back to England. No. I decided my career was in Pakistan." But for all that, he never requested a Pakistani passport. He has studied Islam over the years and has the views " Islam is all Peace and calmness and it is a religion which does not force you to do anything".

There is no doubting his dedication. After 73 years of teaching Langlands pays himself £160 a month – not much, even in Pakistan. His twin brother, who lives in Blackpool, has visited just four times in six decades, most recently in 1992. He was awarded the highest civil award of Pakistan in 2010. He also was awarded the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) by the British Government.

Life has to end one day and Langlands knows that perfectly, he wants someone to take over the school. He wants to find a replacement "Britisher". They're not so plentiful these days, though. 

Langlands is bravely resisting retirement: "I shall remain as long as I am mentally and physically fit," he declares – but is quietly making preparations. His beloved Aitchison college has agreed to provide lodgings in the prep school boarding house. In the end, he predicts, the principal's job will fall into local hands – possibly a good thing – but he is still open to another "Britisher". Adventure-seeking retired principals, apply now.

People of Chitral love Major Geoffrey Langlands, they consider him their own and all they know is that who ever takes over from him will not be another Geoffrey Langlands. It is our duty to to build and nurture this institute ourselves and tell Geoffrey Langlands how much his hard work and life means to us.


  1. Proud of you boy! x)

  2. Salute to Mr. Geoffrey!

  3. hey Awais Bhatti are you from DAPS ?

  4. Amazing committment to his passion. Hats off to you Major Langlands & thank you for making a difference in promoting education in our country.