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Raising cultural awareness and money for charity: Mastana 2019

We met with the Co-Presidents of Mastana 2019 to talk about the biggest Asian cultural show in East Anglia


You may have heard the rave reviews of last year's Mastana, an evening of variety acts, good food and a bit of messy dancing at the Cindies afterparty. Last year, they sold out the entire Guildhall and donated a massive £4,500 to Saroj Gupta Cancer Centre and Research Institute and Mind UK. This year, they're going for even bigger and better.

I met with the presidents, Parvesh Konda and Sanjan Das, to ask a couple questions about this year's event, taking place next Saturday.

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Credit: Giri Nandakumar

Mastana was started 23 years ago by the Cambridge University Hindu Cultural Society, and it's gone from strength to strength ever since. Mastana aims to attract 1000 people and raise £10,000 in profit for their chosen charities each year, and with over 25 people on the committee and over 100 people involved each year, this is a massive undertaking.

This year, the acts will include a Bollywood dance troupe, magic, a fashion show about the meeting of British and Indian cultures, a veena performance and more. However, this year the performances are branching out- the Sanskruti School of Dance, which does workshops to teach children about South Asian arts, will be coming in to do a dance with children from around Cambridge. There will also be a romcom play staged, about the life of an Indian student in Cambridge and the stereotypes they often come up against.

There will also be incredible Asian food and an afterparty in Cindies, included in the tiny ticket price of £14 for students.

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Credit: Parvesh Konda

The money from your ticket will go towards making a donation towards the two chosen charities of this year, Mind UK and Goonj. The presidents explained the importance of these two charities. Mind UK is obviously a charity close to many Cambridge students' hearts, with its focus on mental health.

Meanwhile, Goonj is a charity with a personal link to the Mastana Committee, focussed on donating clothes to those who need it in 21 states in India. The charity first began when freelance journalist Anshu Gupta came across a young girl, Kaneez Bano, dressed in a cotton dress on a winter evening, shivering between her parents. He asked if he could help, and the parents told him their story: they were municipality workers so desperate for their money that they disposed of unclaimed corpses after the police had finished their investigations. The wage for each cremation was hardly enough to keep them fed, let alone clothed, and Kaneez told Gupta that she kept warm by cuddling up to the corpses her parents had yet to cremate.

A few years later, Gupta managed to establish the funds to set up a charity collecting unwanted but clean clothes from people and then distributing them. Within five years, he had to set up an office and a warehouse in order to store all the clothes donated. Gupta explained that "clothes mean dignity- a poor person might be able to get food one way or the other, but clothes are the last thing on people's minds when it comes to donating to charity… why is a basic need treated as a relief material during disasters?" One of the aims of Goonj is to provide clothes in a way that does not degrade people and maintains their dignity, which often gets pushed to the side in relief situations; Goonj rather offers clothes in exchange for an infrastructure project, as people often prefer to work than be treated like a beggar.

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Credit: Giri Nandakumar

The Co-Presidents also emphasised the educational side to the show; it is a celebration of South Asian culture and opens up a much needed and valuable dialogue in the white-centric narrative of Cambridge and indeed, Cambridge charity work. It's a diverse, exciting show set to break the Cambridge bubble, whilst donating to incredibly worthwhile and important charities.

Mastana is on next Saturday, 23rd Feb, at the Guildhall, and tickets are £14.

Cover image credit: Giri Nandakumar