‘Drop out, Tune In and Turn On’


Frederick Noronha takes us back to hippie days in Anjuna
GOA TODAY, November 1996

Goa Freaks: My Hippie Years in India
by Cleo Odzer
Blue Moon Books

DID you wonder how the hippies of the ’70s managed to live seemingly luxurious lives in Goa without doing a day’s work? Want to know how they spent months on a tiny stretch of Anjuna beach? Or what really attracted them to Goa?

If so, this is the book. It is a must-read for the student of sociology, the Goan from the coastal belt, and about anyone curious to understand the changes this society underwent in the last three decades.

Cleo Odzer is herself a former hippie, reincarnated as a respectable academic in the US. She tells the full story, with brutal and uncensored honesty. Even at the risk of portraying herself as a narcissistic, self-centered and a law-breaking guest of Goa.

This book’s significance is that it is the first to decode the lives and times of the hippies of Goa, which was one of the hippie-capitals worldwide (besides Ibiza in Spain and Kathmandu).

Odzer grew up in the lap of Jewish affluence in New York, as a disaffected youth in the post-Vietnam War generation. She opted to restlessly comb Europe and the Middle East before taking the overland bus from Europe to Goa. Four years — of drugs, depravity and a meaningless existence — was, however, more than she could take of it.

Returning to the US, she valiantly worked her way to a doctorate in Anthropology. She now works with a drug rehabilitation group called Daytop.

Her story zooms in on that community of aliens which relocated to a tiny stretch of Goa. Though based in Anjuna, the Goa Freaks, as they called themselves, kept links across the globe. There were some in San Francisco. Many temporarily shifted to Bali (Indonesia). Bangkok was a oft-visited destination. They congregated around a few down-market hotels in Mumbai too.

But in the monsoon, the Goa Freaks fled the torrential rains and undertook ‘scams’ — couriering drugs to distant locations. On this money, they lavishly lived it up in the ensuing season. Returns were high. Drugs bought for $2000 in Asia could retail for $21,843 in Canada. Just to carry somebody else’s drugs to Canada, they were paid $8000 to $10,000.

On their drug earnings, they lived life to the hilt. En route, they stayed in the Sheratons, the Holiday Inns and the Hiltons, and met contacts at the Taj.

Cleo Odzer, returning to Anjuna from Canada one time, meets a friend coming in from Thailand. Take her word for it: “We exchanged knowing smiles. Now I knew how the Goa Freaks made the money to splurge on so much coke (cocaine). Now I knew, because I’d been initiated. I was really one of them.”

Odzer narrates how she opened her “dope den,” called the Anjuna Drugoona Saloona, after boldly tacking handwritten adverts throughout the beach! Her description of the outdoor and indoor parties clearly suggest these are fueled by persons linked to the drug trade which is far more organized than most of us could dream of.

Odzer suggests the Goa police failed to be vigilant in curbing the drug trade. Despite reading her letters and raiding her home, they simply let her off. In comparison, even Thailand was very strict on drugs, and Bali was firm even against nudism.

This is not a story of Goa. It is a story of the hippies’ escapades, which has Anjuna as the backdrop only incidentally. Nonetheless, it is fascinating reading.

In brief references, we get a hint of the dramatic interface between West and East. Once, a “French junkie” fell into a well and died, resulting in a “major disaster” for the villagers dependent on its water.

Goans are shown as a people willing to put up with the “crazy foreigners” for what they get out of them. By 1979, nothing they do surprises the locals anymore, says Odzer.

Goans were also little more than a source of cheap labour. “A Westerner doing housework! What an unheard-of thing in that land of cheap labor,” writes Odzer. “Living in Goa could be stupendously inexpensive. Food and rent cost little and I paid the Goan maid $22 a month for coming in seven days a week and doing everything. Drugs were the main rupee eaters… the low cost of Goan labor allowed me to hire an army of painters for pennies an hour,” commented Odzer.

Based on first-hand experience, Cleo Odzer is able to smartly analyze the mechanics of drug smuggling. Maybe Customs officers could consider adopting this book as a text.

For instance, on the Bangkok-Mumbai run, drug-couriers realize that the Customs officials are obsessed with locating electronic goods, not drugs. Duplicate passports were used to hide traces of traveling in drug-prone Far East Asia.

The Goa Freaks took out drugs to destinations in the West. To avoid detection, they visited posh hairdressers and transited through drug-free destinations — like Portugal, Switzerland, Bermuda, Canada, and even the former Soviet Union!

Drugs were smuggled in a variety of places: leather suitcases specially stitched in Mumbai. Condom-packed narcotics were stuffed in the intestines and vagina. “Smack” was brought in from Laos hidden in a toothpaste tube. To retain it in their intestines, “a bottle of diarrhea medicine” had to be consumed. To get it out called for “a box of Ex-Lax,” a laxative!

Dr. Odzer makes it clear from the start: “This is a nonfiction story, but some names and characters and exact dates have been changed to protect identities.” Still, many are clearly identifiable. One only has to refer to Goa Today’s past issues to know who are the drug pushers being referred to. Some still make their appearances. Others, like “Biriyani” had purchased properties here not too long ago. Sadly, a few who featured in the book died in “mysterious ways.”

Many Goan characters and institutions also figure in this book — Joe Banana, landlord Lino, Paradise Pharmacy, Hanuman Ice Cream, the Birmingham Boys gang, and Inspector Navelcar. There’s also “the private Catholic hospital in Mapusa” where the freaks go to recuperate. Not all that is revealed may be flattering information.

Strange names and unusual characters also people this book: Neal, Alehandro, an American named Narayan and another named Sadhu George, Norwegian Monica, Mental, Serge, Barbara, Junky Robert and Tish, David and Ashley, Canadian Jacques, Hollywood Peter, Marco and wife Gigi, Guiliano, Amsterdam Dean, Trumpet Steve, Paul, Jerry Schmaltz and Eight-Finger Eddie. Some still live in Goa. One of the hippies even named their son Anjuna. But he grew up into a “conservative young man with short hair who refused to be called Anjuna, and who just enlisted in the US police academy.” One of the pharmacies she names allegedly even bought narcotic drugs from Odzer!

To maintain her drug habit she has to undergo amazing levels of depravity: join a gang stealing traveler’s cheques in Mumbai and agree to sexual abuse by a police official in a Delhi jail.

Finally, Odzer takes a hard decision. Drugs slowly decimated the Anjuna freak community, and she is shocked to find the number of friends dead or in jail. Death stares at her too in the face and drugs make her lose touch with reality. She either has to lose India or her life.

This story is best narrated in her own words: “Oh, I hated the notion. This place was my dream. I would never find one I loved as much, or that I could belong to as wholeheartedly. Goa was home.”

Odzer’s story can move you to tears. Even if you’re an irate Goan who believes the hippies ruined the place and brought in drugs. It can also make you feel terribly angry. Scenes where she has to leave behind her dog are touching. But, then, to learn that she fed her pet prawns-in-wine-sauce, or bought saris merely to hang from the ceiling, is nothing short of scandalous.

Despite her impeccable academic credentials, Dr. Cleo Odzer liberally sprinkles her book with the Bs, Ds, and quite a few F-words too. But this recreates a feeling of re-living the hippie years of Goa.

Goa Freaks has a fascinating style. A young Odzer herself poses seductively on the cover, tells you of her own sexual escapades, and uses a style that keeps the narrative gripping throughout. But do we find it interesting because, in Goa, we have long been puzzled and unable to understand the hippie reality?

Some may find the portrayal too superficial. It makes the flower-power generation seem simply obsessed with sex and drugs. But perhaps the hippies of the late ’70s were a different cup of tea from those who preceded them. Incidentally, despite their distaste for the Western “capitalist” lifestyle, the late-70s hippies “loved gadgets, and at the start of each season they fussed over the latest inventions brought from the West.”

Odzer, incidentally, was kind enough to send across complimentary copies of her costly book to public libraries in Goa — including the Central Library’s Rare Books Section and the Xavier Centre at Porvorim. Maybe she can further repay her host society by passing on some drug-rehab skills from Daytop.

[FOOTNOTE, written in end 2005: Cleo Odzer apparently like this review; she posted it to her site, where it was still available at this point of time. I got the impression that she was a bit surprised that Indians could write English 😉 and comprehend what she was talking about. Subsequently, she moved back to Goa. When I mentioned her untimely death here itself, a few of her friends contacted me via the Net. Unfortunately, we never got the chance to meet up in Goa, even if we spoke on the phone a few times, and I lent her a spare email account when she seemed desperate to access the Net in the Anjuna of the late ‘nineties.-FN]

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