“Pakistan is an astonishing place, there is so much in this country to discover, to own and be proud of,” says Perveen Malik, the moving spirit behind the Asian Study Group (ASG).
In 1984, this dynamic lady hailing from Islamabad joined the Asian Study Group, that had been established in the capital in 1973. It started as a small gathering of diplomat’s wives who were interested in finding out more about the culture, geography, history, religions, environments, crafts and customs of the Asian region in general and of Pakistan in particular. I met Mrs. Malik at her beautifully decorated house and discovered her to be a lively lady with a terrific sense of humour. It was her vivacity and ebullience that was responsible for turning what I expected would be a small interview, into an interactive discussion of nearly three hours.
An early childhood educationist, Mrs. Malik ran a pre-school called the ‘The Children’s House’ in Islamabad before joining ASG. “I joined ASG as a special coordinator at the beginning, and then served as the Vice President for some time,” she relates. She left the organisation for a short period to pursue a career in education but later came back to join as its President. She feels an exceptional affection for the ASG, describing it as a “labour of love.”
Discussing the concept and impulse behind the Asian Study Group, she says, “The best thing is that it’s a voluntary group. Lectures, meetings and other events are organised on a regular basis. Trips to different parts of Pakistan are arranged during the year. Hikes are taken in the nearby mountains, and walks in various areas give a chance to examine local plants and the natural habitat.” Reminiscing about the history of ASG, she describes it as having had a humble beginning, with a small office in a tiny room on Nazimuddin Road. It was due entirely to the hard work of the members and a variety of exciting programs that the institution made waves in a very short time and today, it boasts seventeen subgroups catering to special interests. These sub-groups meet at least once each month and are dedicated to outdoor activity and adventure, archeology, arts and crafts, comparative religions, carpets and textiles, cuisines, cycling, films, gardening and botanical walks, to name a few.
When asked why they didn’t expand ASG’s activities to other cities, she explains candidly how Islamabad is a different set up with very few cultural activities as compared to Lahore and Karachi. “The trouble with Islamabad is that it’s a new city with a bureaucratic and diplomatic atmosphere. There has been very little room for new and innovative things to take place. The capital has seen many ups and downs politically and remains far behind other cities culturally. ASG seeks to expose the wonderfully artistic, vibrant and multihued side of the country to the residents of Islamabad.”
The Asian Study Group sponsors various publications from Pakistan, including the annual calendar and note cards. The photography club organises a competition among members to select images for publishing in the calendar. A well-stocked library contains an impressive collection of books and videos. These include the various publications on what Pakistan has to offer in terms of its rich culture and geography. Talking about the events organised under the auspices of ASG, she says “An opening event around the end of September marks the beginning of the ASG year, with a casual meeting to get the members registered, note down their areas of interest and acquaint them with the sub-groups.” The events are based on a specific theme providing a platform for both Pakistanis as well as foreign diplomats to participate. “We don’t intend to make money and that’s precisely the reason we have garnered tremendous goodwill over the years,” she says. The group celebrates the end of the year in May with a grand event based on a particular topic. The board meets every first Tuesday to discuss the programs and all programs go through the committee for approval.
While discussing the prevalent situation in the country, she remembers the 60’s and 70’s as the golden period of Pakistan when it was a vibrant, open minded and dogma-free society. Sufi ideas of love, tolerance and co existence constituted the basis of this society, in sharp contrast to the country’s image today as a breeding ground for fundamentalism. Mrs. Malik suggests that the people of Pakistan need to take a stand in order to resolve these problems or things will just get worse. Small groups like ASG are playing a significant role but real change can only come through collective action. “This country is blessed with immense talent and I am positive that one day it will emerge as a progressive, moderate and democratic nation committed to the development of a modern Islamic state as our founding fathers envisioned. Our time has ended but I believe that youth can bring perpetual peace in the region and co-existence between people.”
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