Posted on January 7, 2019
The tale of how a British orphan came to be Pakistan’s best-loved teacher, meeting princesses, teaching prime ministers and surviving kidnap while maintaining a healthy respect for a well-shined shoe, porridge oats and the morning newspaper, could be straight out of a story book. He was, the New York Times said in 2012, “the quintessential Englishman of old, a living relic of the Raj”.
But “the major”, as he was affectionately known, was more than a vestige of a bygone age. By the time of his death at 101, his devotion to education had transformed the lives of thousands of children growing up in some of Pakistan’s most remote and lawless regions. His posting to India in 1944 would shape the rest of his life. After the war, he stayed on to witness firsthand the end of the British Empire in India, and the deadly violence that engulfed the country during partition in 1947 – when two independent states, India and Pakistan, were created. Maj Langlands was assigned to Pakistan’s new army, and spent much of the period travelling around the country by train. In interviews later, he would tell of how he navigated the early, chaotic days that left more than half a million dead, even guarding a train full of Indian soldiers in the newly created capital, Lahore.
He laid the blame for what happened on the leadership at the time.
“It could’ve been done more peacefully and many wars that followed could’ve been avoided,” he told a Stanford oral history project in 2015.