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 Indi­ans like sell­ing stuff. Oh boy. On every street cor­ner, peo­ple are sell­ing tele­vi­sions, the tat you get in show bags, snacks cooked in mys­tery 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 demon­strate their 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.