It didn’t take much convincing for me to head straight to Goa to chill out after the shock and awe of Bombay, so after the obligatory sightseeing experiences of that city, I was off to Anjuna Beach, where golden sands and bodies glitter beneath the Indian sun, in turns hungry for the Arabian Sea, or the cool of the palm trees swaying above the many bars and beach huts that line the shore. On the beach, it doesn’t really feel like India – there’s too much nakedness – and too many Westerners, both package tourists, and the patchwork rabble of hippies that range from the celestial to the feral, some barely out of the womb, and others so sun scorched and old that only their accents give away that they once called somewhere else home. One is always hearing about so and so who arrived in ‘65, tore up their passports in ‘69, and never went away, mincing around the beach like geriatric Jack Sparrows, and banging on about taking darshan in Tamil Nadu. They’re mostly harmless, of course, even the ex-model from Milan who pretends to be a dog, but I can’t help but think that these old warriors of the antiestablishment have created a fading empire of their own that has very little to do with the real India. Whatever that is.
To break the cycle of sunburn, sleep and coconut sipping, I head to two concerts on Vagator Hill, one a concert of Sufi music that feels both ancient and enlightened, attended by a small crowd of devotees that take to heart a mystical interpretation of Islam, and has as much to say about love as John Lennon ever did. And speaking of rock stars, the other concert featured Prem Joshua, a god of contemporary Indian fusion music. Impossibly handsome, the only thing stopping the thousands of hippy chicks from throwing their knickers at him is the fact they probably aren’t wearing any in the first place. The evening was transporting, with the trance / sitar fusion getting under the skin as surely as the marijuana haze hanging over the hill meant that even those of us who don’t smoke were transported in more ways than one. Sped back to my room on the back of a motorcycle, I thought I was flying, and that night, I dreamed I was standing on the beach at Anjuna, alone, the sea red, with three suns in the sky – which would have been creepy enough, except that a stampede of horses with orange bridles came racing across the water towards me, kicking up the waves beneath their hooves to the sound of thunder. When I awoke, I was convinced the world was ending, and that the fundamentalist Christians were right all along. A few hours later I was lying on the beach eating watermelon.
Life’s like that.
I met a lot of great people in Goa, and was sad to leave that easy lifestyle behind. Despite brief agony in Calangoute – losing my bankcard in an Indian ATM – Goa was good to me. I loved her Portuguese architecture, and the whitewashed cathedral of Panaji, her fish curries, the markets brimming with treasure and junk, and I make two farewells to the beach state, one during a visit to the remains of St. Francis Xavier in the Cathedral of Bom Jesus in Old Goa, and the other by letting the local beer flow at one of the region’s famous Full Moon parties, where the sea seemed at peace, and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse never so far away…
THE CURIOUS EAR CLEANERS OF GOA
The Indians like selling stuff. Oh boy. On every street corner, people are selling televisions, the tat you get in show bags, snacks cooked in dog fat, and cures for cancer. And as someone who hates shopping – a fact inconceivable to the countless offended businessman whose wares I refuse to inspect – there is no one I hate more than the kamikaze ear-wallahs, who – like the birdseed sellers of Milan who once threw seeds at me (and therefore 500 hungry birds) when I declined their request for euro-tuppence – are so entrepreneurial that they think it’s a good idea to sneak up behind you, thrust a metal pin in your ear, brandish in the air the wax they claim to have retrieved (usually planted beeswax to make their efforts seem triumphant) and then demand payment for a good day’s work!
The first time this happened I was caught unawares on Anjuna Beach and thought someone was trying to inject something into my brain, and ran from my assailant with a string of expletives pouring from my lips. On other occasions, the same type of bandit would approach silently, pointing as if to say “hey friend, you have something on your face,” but by then I was savvy, and would know to run, because they don’t take hell no for an answer. Indeed, many an ear was violated in Goa because some hapless foreigner assumed a stranger was simply pointing out a spider in their hair. Confront them, and the funniest part is watching them produce documents – typed up at home – that “prove” their amazing credentials in the field.
Fred Hollows never had to sneak up on someone whose eyes he wanted to fix (although that might, perhaps, have been easier).
You have to give the ear-wallahs full marks for creativity, but I saw one or two punched square in the head by butch-er men than I who took none too kindly to having their eustachian tubes violated. And given the possibility of the kamikaze surgeons actually damaging an ear with their penetrations, I can’t exactly blame them.