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October 8, 2010

150 years of Lawrence College

Opinion

October 8, 2010

Amidst much excitement and no little sentiment -- some of it verging, I suspect, on the tearful -- Lawrence College, up in the Murree hills, where, for better or worse I received my first lessons in an imperfect education, celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding tomorrow (Saturday). Gallians (from the name Ghora Gali, the village near which the college is situated) are great ones for nostalgia and this will be an occasion to celebrate the past and revel in it.
When I first went there, and this was in 1958, the near-legendary Miss Glegg was the Junior School headmistress and at end of term it was very much the fashion to sing Auld Lang Syne. When she was finally leaving Pakistan, and had just received the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for her long commitment to education, we sang it for her and there were tears in her eyes. But there will be no Auld Lang Syne tomorrow and, despite the fact that there will be a lot of adults around, no toasts -- real ones, that is -- raised to the remembrance of times past.
We retain the forms of things British but the spirit of those things has fled. Or it has been deformed by our obsessive and desperate desire to cover things in whose creation we had no hand with a Pakistani or pseudo-Islamic veneer.
Which means that at least the more jaundiced amongst us -- amongst which, sadly, I have to include myself -- will have to steel ourselves for the inevitable speeches without which such occasions are not complete. Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani on the merits of a superior education, and on the national services rendered by Lawrence College: a prospect enough to unnerve the stoutest heart.
The 1950s were Pakistan's formative years and at that time education hadn't plummeted to its present dismal depths. Teachers, whether in public schools or elsewhere, were for the most part dedicated souls and this showed in the quality of education that was generally imparted.
If my memory of anything in the

Lawrence College of those years is the strongest it is of the teachers we were fortunate to have. They had no interest in life apart from teaching and their dedication was such that it rubbed off on even the most unwilling students.
Mr Zaidi teaching history, Ehsan Ellahi English literature, Asghar biology, Naqvi Urdu, Walters English language, Manthorpe painstakingly (with a red pencil) going through our English essays, M L Charlesworth, the principal, finding the time to take the occasional English class and to give early morning lectures (I joke not) on the Second World War ... I think we were just not fortunate but blessed in having such masters.
Teachers notwithstanding the Lawrence College of those years was not exactly renowned for academic achievement. There were boys who would fail classes repeatedly and not be put out a whit, their ringing motto being, "failures are the grand pillars of success".
But the question which keeps nagging me is that under the impact of what strange alchemy did our best institutions -- Aitchison, Lawrence College, Burne Hall, St Patrick's, Grammar School Karachi, etc -- turn out such a poor ruling class? The Pakistani masses, luckless souls, have had little to do with the mess that has been made of the country. Pakistan's failures are the failures of its English-educated classes, English being the language of power and government, of the army and the courts.
The Manthorpes and the Charlesworths did their best. They couldn't have done more. But why for all their efforts were they unable to sculpt from the material at hand a true leadership class? If there was nothing wrong with the artist or the painter, and nothing wrong with his tools, was there something wrong with the canvas at which he toiled?
Perhaps this is a bit melodramatic. But the point is worth stressing and repeating. At the country's birth its English-educated classes were powerful enough to give the country any direction they wanted. They could have put their stamp on the ideological wars which broke out at the time of the country's birth . They could have won those wars and turned the country firmly and decisively around in the direction of rationalism and modernity.
They could have embraced the future. Instead of which, to appease their sense of insecurity, they made the worst choices possible, dragging the country into unholy alliances with the United States, fostering a spirit of dependence which over the years has become one of our leading national characteristics, and taking other steps (no need to recite the familiar litany here) which weakened constitutionalism and bolstered the army's position as the country's leading political player.
In short, the architects of our major disasters -- including the 1965 war, the march to defeat in East Pakistan, the Afghan and Kashmiri 'jihads' -- have been drawn from our English school-educated governing elites. The holy fathers and the religious parties have been accomplices, willing foot soldiers, in this steady march to the brink. But they were never the master designers, this distinction belonging to the products of our best institutions.
The mullah-led academies of suicide bombers have only now come into their own. Taking the larger view, the English academies have been more destructive in what they have wrought because it is the products of the best English academies from whose blueprints or bizarre strategic ideas that the entire jihadi enterprise arose. The roots of Talibanism therefore lie in the choices made by Pakistan's governing elites. Where those elites come from I need not repeat.
How did we come to this pass? What went wrong and how did our best people, or so we thought they were, those who spoke the best English -- English being the greatest banner of achievement in the Islamic Republic, this being not the least of the Republic's ironies -- fail to understand the current of events, the movement of the times?
And if a rescue job has to be undertaken who will step forward to shoulder the burden? The public school class or Hakimullah's Taliban? The dispirited elites or the barbarian hordes? If our governing classes had done a better job, the Pakistani nation would have been spared much of its ideological confusion.
Before I forget, the common thread between madressah education and public school education is one which all true-spirited Gallians will readily recognise: the prevalence of what, to put it delicately, I can only refer to as la vice anglais (or the love that dare not speak its name). All boarding institutions where young boys are thrown together are, alas, familiar with this phenomenon. I need not dwell on it further. There are so many things which are a part of one's growing up.
But I can't help adding that youthful passion is one thing, its ripe or grownup expression something quite different. Beware therefore of tempting the gods by encountering in late life the objects of one's early romantic enthusiasm. Of all things off-putting this can be quite the most calamitous.
Aitchison College has been famous for the politicians it has produced, leading figures whose names are intertwined with Pakistan's failures. Lawrence College has been famous for its generals, never more so than at the time of Musharraf's coup in whose consummation and subsequent consolidation figured several of its bright alumni. But they played a leading part in national affairs only in Musharraf's early years. Musharraf's larger failures therefore cannot be laid at their door. Names will be out of place here, so I will not take them.
Anyway, remembering old friends and recalling events long past and gone, in my heart at least I will repeat the lines:
For auld lang syne , my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
Cup of kindness? There won't be any on Lawrence College's green lawns tomorrow afternoon. Nor in the White House, the principal's residence, thereafter, we having run out of such luck a long time ago. There's no proper remembering of auld acquaintance without a cup of kindness, but I suppose we'll somehow manage.

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