Not Just Another Beach Bash

Why the organisers of a ‘charity’ music festival were ejected from a World Heritage Site on their ear

01 April 2011
The ‘Ujaan: Festival for the Sunderbans’, stands postponed until further notice.
WWW.UJAANFESTIVAL.ORG
The ‘Ujaan: Festival for the Sunderbans’, stands postponed until further notice.
WWW.UJAANFESTIVAL.ORG

A THREE-DAY ROCK CONCERT, Ujaan, conceived by a bunch of youngsters with their headquarters in Kolkata, aimed to bring together “artists, musicians, thinkers, activists and organizations” from around the globe in an attempt to draw attention to the impending crisis in the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Repeatedly devastated by cyclonic storms, the last of which, a severe tropical cyclone named Aila, tore the region apart in 2009, leaving over a million people homeless, the Sunderban delta also faces the grave threat of obliteration due to rising sea levels. Ujaan, primarily focused on music, hoped to raise considerable funds to help and support ‘developmental projects’ in the area.

The first instalment of the festival, announced on Facebook late last year, was supposed to take place from 10-12 March 2011 in Frasergunj, a sleepy fishing village a stone’s throw from the forests of the Sunderbans. The exact reason for settling on this spot was unclear, and somewhat fashionably whimsical. On their website, detailing the journey that led to the conceptualisation of the show, the Ujaan team emphasised the unsullied beauty of the beaches and the welcoming warmth of the locals as crucial influences on their decision. “Lined with casuarina trees, the 7 km beach stretching from Bakkhali to Frasergunj is the location we have fixed upon the site for the festival pleasantly gushes like a mother about her newborn. Here the sea is calm, the beach is clean and the people are beautiful,” the site read.

As the word about Ujaan got around, echoing wildly through the corridors of the Internet, the festival of fantasies soon got bigger, leaping within days from a flickering flame into a forest fire. Interest poured in from all quarters, hefty sponsorships smoothed over any remaining obstacles, and potential spectators posted appreciative comment after comment on the festival’s interactive forums. Countless postcard photographs of Frasergunj locals, duly attached with description notes egging us on to “look at them smile, see how they fly”, and “meet them at workshops and training sessions in their schools, community and spaces”, swarmed our Facebook homepages. As the frenzy peaked, tickets, priced at an immodest `2,000, trickled out steadily.

Parni Ray is a writer based out of Kolkata.

Keywords: concert music Ujaan Sunderbans charity Live Aid
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