Extract from a work in progress “ORIGINALLY…” .
“I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But for one brief Shining moment
That’s how conditions were”.
(apologies to Camelot)
Swarming is a natural state in organisms, be they bees or people. We all recognise the motivation of a Memorial Day march, the football crowd, the Mardi Gras Parade or the gatherers at a Khumba Mela.
By the time the nineteen-seventies were under way, we baby boomers thought we had invented swarming. We kept getting away with the most outrageous stunts, like swarming through the streets to oppose a war that our elders had initiated.
I was working in New York City, but the East was still calling… there had to be more to life than this. All winter I went down the elevator, into the subway, up the elevator and into the office in the morning, and reversed the procedure in the afternoon. Sure, I had seen the Stones at Madison Square Gardens, watched transfixed like the proverbial spot-lit rabbit at television broadcasts of the Watergate conspiracy (on every channel, all day!). A journey down to Maryland had resulted in a memorable 4th of July Beach Boy’s concert at the Washington Monument. I had hung out at McSorley’s Pub on the Lower East Side after seeing Jacques Brel’s show, drinking mugs of dark beer and munching on raw onions and crackers while the potbellied stove pumped more dust into the massive cobwebs overhead. The input seemed intense, even for a young Aussie. My plan was to go back to India. I kept hearing stories on the grapevine about some bloke who was called “Eight-Finger Eddie”, living in a place called Anjuna Beach in Goa.
One of the best things about travelling is that you can stop. I knew a mad German called Theodore in Portuguese East Timor, who had arrived from Kupang in 1970 in a leaky Zodiac accompanied by a one-eyed sea eagle with a brass neck-ring. He stopped. The concerned local cops took away his spark plug. I didn’t tell him about brave Captain Bligh’s whaleboat journey through the Pacific to Timor. The German lived for a couple of years in an old gun emplacement bunker on the beach at Dili harbour, using the sea-eagle to catch his dinner. He used to rent out floor space in the bunker to backpackers; I know, because I stayed there. The cost was thirty cents on entry; it didn’t matter how long anyone stayed.
I planned on stopping in India. The West had become overwhelming and many of us knew enough of the East to remain unintimidated. One vital requisite was a robust constitution. An interesting collection of like-minded people from all over the world ended up in the same place at the same time while trying to get away from all the other people. Swarming amongst human beings is a funny thing. I imagine the scene on the goldfields during the rush was similar.
After a circuitous route through Egypt and East Africa, picking up unwritten introductions, information and some sense of traveller’s credibility after all that time working in N.Y. Fat City, we hit Bombay.
At this time the cost of living was much as it would have been in Paris in the ‘thirties’. It was the sunset of the Raj and some people lived semi-permanently in second-class colonial hotels with afternoon silver tea service delivered by what seemed to be a butler. Here I saw the last of the old colonial remittance men (all straight out of Kipling) rubbing shoulders with the first of the hippie Raj (all scripted from Mitchener’s Caravans).
There was a small, curiously familiar colonial coastal steamer down to the enclave of Goa. We entered Port Panjim and encountered a coastal strip of riverlands where the food was good and the old ramshackle Portuguese 17th century housing was cheap, especially in a land where it would not rain for another six months.
Eight-Finger Eddy did exist. I was told the missing two fingers provided his pension. He had gathered a group around him who met at night to eat from the enormous pots of rice and vegetable subji in the surrealistic ruins of the porch that was all that remained of a mansion. There was always food. Those who could afford it rented the whitewashed houses along the palm-scattered beachfront. Those who could not, built huts from woven palm leaves.
A community developed that was not based on any sect, but rather on a mutual unspoken decision to encourage harmony. We all knew that it could not last. Surprisingly, the core of that community did exist for some years. It was inspiring to return after what seemed a lifetime away on some other adventure and find the spirit still living amongst those most transient of peoples.
One of the major factors in the Goan experience was the democracy. It was a subtle socialism, so many people lived in a scattered village of a few square kilometres. No one owned property; they were tenants under a benign system where $35 a month paid the rent and some help from the Goan family, who continued to live in the rear rooms of the house. The floors were sealed with dried cowshit mud, the pigs ate the refuse, no-one had electricity, but everyone was cool.
As I said, these were a curious bunch of travellers. A number of the Americans were like Sadhu J., still probably officially a draft-dodger in America. Sadhu J. had been in India so long he lived on a few rupees a day and ritually never slept twice in the same place. I doubt if he ever went home. In the group were Algerians and Argentinians, people from California and both Carnarvon’s and all three Aberdeen’s. Many of the couples were cross-cultural marriages; misfits in both societies.
Rapidly an almost medieval image developed. Exhibiting perfect post-harvest behaviour, people seemed to reach back to comfortable memories of a common past where to spend a morning flirting with a pretty girl at the local well while drawing the day’s water was a fine and honest thing to do.
“It is a dance we do in silence, far beyond this morning’s sun
You in your life, me in mine, we have begun.
Here we stand and without speaking draw the water from the well
And stare beyond the fields to where the mountains stand so still.
And it’s a long way that I have come, across the sand,
To find this peace amongst your people in the sun,
Where the families work the land, as they have always done,
Well, it’s so far the other way my country’s gone.”
“Lady of the Well”, by Jackson Browne, sung often on Anjuna Beach in the early 1970s by Franny & Freddie. (I still have their cassette tape, recorded in Bombay).
At evening the fires spotted through the glades illuminating the small white houses, made a view evocative of timeless rural Europe. At Christmas the candlelit Catholic, Portuguese, Christian altars at every crossroads seemed to compound the view.
The communal meal at Eddys’ Porch was a focus, even for those who cooked in their own homes. Afterwards there was music with guitars, drums and an open fire, with stories told late into the night, and more music.
That is not to say that everything was peachy. There were intrigues and infidelities, disappointments and mundanities; hygiene was questionable, and yet healthy children were born. So long as most were fed and housed there was a dogged obsession with continuing the experiment. Of course everyone knew that it couldn’t last, but so long as it did no-one wanted to upset the balance. Surprising changes occurred in people. A quiet dormouse became quietly confident as her role developed within the community. Strangers began to trust, opening up to talk about what really mattered to them.
At the time I copied Aldous Huxley’s words from ‘Island’ into my journal….
“No Alcatrazes here.” She said. “No Billy Grahams or Mao Tse-tungs, or Madonnas of Fatima. No hells on Earth and no Christian Pie In the Sky, no Communist pie in the twenty-second century. Just men and women and their children trying to make the best of the here and now, instead of living somewhere else as you people mostly do, in some other time, in some other home-made imaginary universe. And it really isn’t your fault. You’re compelled to live that way because the present is so frustrating. And it’s frustrating because you’ve never been taught to bridge the gap between theory and practice, between your New Year’s resolutions and your actual behaviour”.
“For the good that I would” he quoted, “I do not, And the evil that I would not, that I do.” ”
It didn’t last. Time has a way of moving on. The moneyed drifters started to arrive, and then the electricity was connected to the beach. In came new swarms; the gays, then the jet-set, the dealers and the drug money.
At breakfast one morning I saw Allejandro, our two-metre Spanish version of Hanuman the Indian Monkey God, wearing half a kilo of silver wire wrapped around each bicep. He was arguing with a fierce gang of new arrivals, tough Geordies from Newcastle in the U.K. One of them suddenly pulled a gun. I was close enough to see the pearl handle. Allejandro simply stood there with his hands on his hips and mocking eyes. The gun misfired. Allejandro laughed, spat at the English boy’s feet and walked away chuckling. He knew how lucky he had been.
I knew something too. It was time to move on. Materialism was replacing the magic.
The self-elected “Mayor” of the community published his declaration…
Hello Coney Island,
Enter the Dragon.
AN OPEN LETTER TO EVERYONE
Due to the general, steady trend of degeneration in the quality of personalities as well as the overall environment over the last 3 years, I Bombay Brian do declare the Hippy Raj is DEAD !
Anybody, who should happen to think or say that the “Goa Scene” is anything but a “Amateur Nightmare Hot Bed Lunatic Asylum” are themselves Bogus and really don’t know any better, don’t count and deserve what they get or ask for…….!
Any scene, that is run by untalented, unenlightened “3rd rate goons” is not worth its while and should be avoided by the wise….!
Anybody, that thinks or even hopes that “New Faces” will produce a Renaissance of new or different tricks and attractions are mistaken… The “good old days” are gone and will not return. Everyone is “chasing” or trying to duplicate 1974, which is impossible, especially under the present conditions.
Anyone, who tolerates this “jive nonsense” that prevails in Goa is a Loser….!
Many of these “goons” believe that the only problems in Goa are:
1) More and new electronic equipment and gadgets are required.
2) A “New Location” for the Garbage Bazar (Flea Market) is needed.
I personally can assure you that when Goa was the “ Highest and Hippiest” scene in the world, that neither of these two nefarious activities were present or active.
Some morons call this “Progress” but in actuality, it is Destruction…..! That is, destruction of the “Status Quo”…! And that status quo was what made up the Raj…!
Some people are so uninspired, they don’t like the night, and they can’t see the light of day.
Thank you and Good-Bye,
Bombay Brian Esq.
Who will clean the beach now? Maybe someone will import from Hong Kong an automatic beach cleaner, that will sift through the sand and suck up all that toilet paper, food wrappers, tin cans and old newspapers, etc. that constitute the make-up of Anjuna Beach.
I tell the story to illustrate that there ARE shining moments in life and the world and that evil is only part of the equation. For a while these people had found a refuge when it was needed. For a place where nothing material had been created, so many people still talk of what they have learnt from the Goa experience.
Peter Thomas lives in Nambucca Heads, a most beautiful rural part of Australia & works selling rare books & photos when he is not watching whales or dolphins or living a family life.
this story is copyright peter thomas 2011.