They were called… the hippies

It looks like such a long time ago. Today, you’ll hardly find any signs of this vanishing tribe. Hippy Goa has all but gone away.  Of course, there are still those who come searching for the hippy trail. The will to believe, as George Bernard Shaw once wrote, creates its own evidence. So probably they do find it. Or believe they have.

But today’s ‘alternative’ tourists are a far cry from the flower children of the 1960s. They might look as unkempt, act like rebels, and opt for the counter-life while here. But most would go right back home, to fit deep into mainstream and routine jobs, the comfortable lifestyle and the rat race. Quite unlike their predecessors of over a generation ago. If one venture out in cyberspace, however, you can still find traces of the tourists of the 1960s. There are photographs there, going back to those days. You can see depictions of the origins of the now burgeoning flea market, or the overland buses to Asia which could make it without blockades in Iran, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Cleo Odzer, a model-turned-hippy who returned to Goa in the 1990s only to die here, has folk legend status in cyberspace. There are also Anjuna old timers, now grandparents or equivalent, who remember the old times nostalgically and talk about it.

They were Goa’s first tourists in the true sense of the word. The ones who ‘discovered’ Goa, if not actually invented it. Their presence here, in turn, attracted subsequent waves of visitors, from the rest of India, the country’s first beach luxury hotels starting from the 1970s, charter tourists in the 1980s, and even larger numbers since. Till the hippies landed here, there were no large-scale visitors coming to Goa, even if some politicians kept insisting since long that Goa had the potential. The only visitors here then were the expats returning for the annual (or more often) holidays, from Bombay or once-in-four-year sojourns from colonial British-ruled East Africa.

Our village was just three kilometres away from the coastal belt; but still it was pretty isolated from it then. My first memories of the hippes were encountering a probably-stoned Western lady, as a child, while our family sat on the Calangute beach. She stopped by and just stared at our family for a good five minutes or so; my parents, then in their forties, not having a clue of what she intended doing [nothing] or what was on her mind [something]. Pun intended. We saw discos and wondered, as kids, what the heck these were. Later on, as a young journalist, I would read newspaper reports going back to the early 1970s. In these, villagers of Calangute would protest, in Panjim, about the nudism in their village. The then woman chief minister of Goa, ironically enough, simply turned around and told them that the women protesting were themselves immodestly attired, with bare arms. Those were changing times. At age eight or nine, during a weekly visit to a charming library run by an old gent out of a kiosk (gadda) in the Calangute market, a broke hippy tried, and managed, to sell me a charming Tintin comic, and a fat theoretical tome on tantra! In the late 1980s, as a young journalist volunteering to bring out an environmental guide to Goa, the hippies showed up. In yet another unusual way.

Dr Claude Alvares, environmentalist and the editor of that guide (called ‘Fish, Curry, Rice’) argued in it that the hippy tourists were “kinder to the environment”. He pointed out that their almost-spartan lifestyle was more sustainable amidst the scarce village resources. It was only when I ran into, and read, thedetailed hippy-life-in-Goa autobiography by Cleo Odzer (she had then cleant up, given up her addiction to narcotics, and even done a PhD in the US) that one understood this class of tourists a bit more. Her book is called ‘Goa Freaks’ and she liked a review I had written sufficiently toplace it on her website. It is still there. Odzer at first seemed reluctant to send across a review copy of her book, and then was surprised that “you can write English”. Her book is available in a locally-produced edition, at a bit of a premium; its author passed away, after returning to India sometimein the 1990s. Like her, the original flower children –their shocking side, their searching side and all together — have also departed. The end of an era.

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Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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