Jul 13, 2010
Better sit still where born, I say,
Wed one sweet woman and love her well,
Love and be loved in the old East way,
Drink sweet waters and dream in a spell,
Than to wander in search of Blessed Isles,
And to sail the thousands of watery miles
In search of love, and find you at last
On the edge of the world, and a curs’d outcast.
- Joaquin Miller, German poet and author (1800-1856).
This is an old world philosophy and advice to be content with what you have and don’t run the risk of losing all in search adventure and more. There was also an opposite view:
Go far – too far you cannot, still the farther
The more experience finds you: and go sparing:-
One meal a week will serve you, and one suit,
Through all your travels; for you will find it certain,
The poorer and baser you appear,
The more you look through still.
-Francis Beaumont, English dramatic poet (1585-1615) and John Fletcher, English dramatist (1576-1625).
The conduct and life-style of hippies who invaded India through late 1960s, and still keep coming in different avatars, conform to the above description. They have ancient ancestry. The foundation of the hippie movement finds historical precedent as far back as the counterculture of the Ancient Greeks, espoused by philosophers like Diogenes. Hippie philosophy also credits the religious and spiritual teachings of Jesus Christ, Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi, Henry David Thoreau and Mahathma Gandhi.
The hippie subculture was originally a youth movement that arose in the United States during the mid-1960s, swiftly spreading to other countries around the world. As Wikipedia explains, the term 'hippie' is from hipster, and was initially used to describe beatniks who had moved into New York City's Greenwich Village. The early "hippies" ideologies included the countercultural values of the Beat Generation. Some created their own social groups and communities, listened to psychedelic rock, embraced the sexual revolution, and used drugs such as marijuana and LSD to explore alternative states of consciousness.
Hippie fashions and values had a major effect on culture, influencing popular music, television, film, literature, and the arts. Since the widespread movement in the 1960s, many aspects of hippie culture have been assimilated by mainstream society. The religious and cultural diversity espoused by the hippies has gained widespread acceptance, and Eastern philosophy and spiritual concepts have reached a wide audience. The hippie legacy can be observed in contemporary culture in myriad forms — from health food, to music festivals, to contemporary sexual mores, and even to the cyberspace revolution.
Along with the New Left and the American Civil Rights Movement, the hippie movement was one of three dissenting groups of the 1960s counterculture. Hippies rejected established institutions, criticized middle class values, opposed nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War, embraced aspects of Eastern philosophy, championed sexual liberation, were often vegetarian and eco-friendly, promoted the use of psychedelic drugs which they felt expanded one's consciousness, and created intentional communities or communes. They used alternative arts, street theatre, folk music, and psychedelic rock as a part of their lifestyle and as a way of expressing their feelings, their protests and their vision of the world ideology that favored peace, love and personal freedom, perhaps best epitomized by The Beatles' song "All You Need is Love". Hippies perceived the dominant culture as a corrupt, monolithic entity that exercised undue power over their lives, calling this culture "The Establishment" and "Big Brother".
We had a Kannada mendicant seer who sang:
Kudialu haryuva nirondirali,
Malagalu marada neralondirali.
(Let there be flowing stream for drinking water and shade of tree for sleeping under).
The hippies have their own poetry on the above lines:
Escapin' through the lily fields
I came across an empty space
It trembled and exploded
Left a bus stop in its place
The bus came by and I got on
That's when it all began
There was cowboy Neal
At the wheel
Of a bus to never-ever land.
While many hippies made a long-term commitment to the lifestyle, some people argue that hippies "sold out" during the 1980s and became part of the materialist, consumer culture. Although not as visible as it once was, hippie culture has never died out completely: hippies and neo-hippies can still be found on college campuses, on communes, and at gatherings and festivals. Many embrace the hippie values of peace, love, and community. Hippies sought to free themselves from societal restrictions, choose their own way, and find new meaning in life. One expression of hippie independence from societal norms was found in their standard of dress and grooming, which made hippies instantly recognizable to one another, and served as a visual symbol of their respect for individual rights. Through their appearance, hippies declared their willingness to question authority, and distanced themselves from the "straight" and "square" (conformist) segments of society.
As in the beat movement preceding them, and the punk movement that followed soon after, hippie symbols and iconography were purposely borrowed from either "low" or "primitive" cultures, with hippie fashion reflecting a disorderly, often vagrant style. As with other adolescent, white middle-class movements, deviant behavior of the hippies involved challenging the prevailing gender differences of their time: both men and women in the hippie movement wore jeans and maintained long hair, and both genders wore sandals or went barefoot. Men often wore beards, while women wore little or no makeup, with many going braless. Hippies often chose brightly colored clothing and wore unusual styles, such as bell-bottom pants, vests, tie-dyed garments, dashikis, peasant blouses, and long, full skirts. Much of hippie clothing was self-made in defiance of corporate culture. Favored accessories for both men and women included Native American jewelry, head scarves, headbands and long beaded necklaces. Hippie homes, vehicles and other possessions were often decorated with psychedelic art.
Travel, domestic and international, was a prominent feature of hippie culture, becoming - in this communal process - an extension of friendship. Many hippies favored hitchhiking as a primary mode of transport because it was economical, environmentally friendly, and a way to meet new people. Hippies tended to travel light and could pick up and go wherever the action was at any time; whether at a "love-in", a demonstration, an "Acid Tests", or if the "vibe" wasn't right and a change of scene was desired, hippies were mobile at a moment's notice. Pre-planning was eschewed as hippies were happy to put a few clothes in a backpack, stick out their thumbs and hitchhike anywhere. Hippies seldom worried whether they had money, hotel reservations or any of the other standard accoutrements of travel. A derivative of this free-flow style of travel were hippie trucks and buses, hand-crafted mobile houses built on truck or bus chassis to facilitate a nomadic lifestyle. Some of these mobile gypsy houses were quite elaborate with beds, toilets, showers and cooking facilities.
The hippie trail, according to Wikipedia, a is a term used to describe the journeys taken by hippies and others in the 1960s and 1970s from Europe overland to and from southern Asia, mainly India and Nepal. One of the key motivations was the desire to travel as cheaply as possible, mainly to extend the length of time away from home, and so journeys were carried out by thumbing (hitchhiking), or cheap, private buses that traveled the route. Such journeys would typically start from countries in Western Europe, often the cities of London or Amsterdam. Many passed through 'key' spots such as Istanbul, Teheran, Kabul, Peshawar, Lahore, Delhi and Varanasi, with Goa, Kathmandu, Dhaka or Bangkok being the usual destinations.
Goa is a main tourist destination in India. But it also is an important global center for the counterculture, now in the digital stage of techno "trance parties". According to Blog entry by Anthony D’Andea, there is much to say about contemporary Goa, counterculture and globalization. But how did the Goa scene actually start? Anthony’s answer: In the late 1960s, a handful of beatniks and hippies were traveling, overland, from Western Europe toward Southern Asia. They came on bikes, beetles and "magic buses". They entered India, and almost incidentally reached Goa. By the Arabian Sea, they gathered on the secluded palm-lined beaches of Anjuna and Vagator. These were modest fishermen villages with no urban infrastructure, let alone tourist facilities. Precarious roads led to the place, linking the state capital Panaji, to Mapusa town, and then to Anjuna. The "first hippie" of that movement is now 84 years old. Eight Finger Eddie, an American expat of Armenian ancestry, still lives in Goa.
Colva beach, in south Goa, was the first place chosen by a handful of hippies upon arrival in Goa by the mid-1960s. But "Eight Finger" Eddie soon moved to South Anjuna, as he heard about the beauty of that unknown place. Then in his mid-40s, Eddie already was a popular veteran. Consequently, many Western youngsters soon followed suit, also settling down in Anjuna beach, which is where the "Goa scene" actually started.
Local natives recall that hippies chose Anjuna because there was no police station in the area. The closest station was located miles away southwest, beyond Mapusa town. Therefore, hippies could enjoy the necessary peace to do drugs, without having to pay baksheesh (bribe) at every corner.
Moreover, one native family was pivotal in the early Anjuna scene. In a region where most of the population only spoke Konkani, Joe "Banana" Almeida spoke very good English - an important factor for global travelers. Joe and his family had just returned from Kenya. They had opened a simple restaurant which also provided a variety of ancillary services for hippie newcomers. It was logical that hippies would gather around his restaurant, currently run by his son Tony, still located in South Anjuna.
However, with the ongoing modernization of Anjuna since the 1990s, the emerging techno trance scene was gradually pushed north. It moved towards the villages of Chapora, Vagator and Arambol. Original Anjuna followed the steps of Baga-Calangute tourist strip, which caters to charter tourists from India, Russia, UK and Scandinavia.
My own tryst with hippies was in downtown Mumbai’s Colaba, where I stayed and they found cheap accommodation on Arthur Bunder Road’s two-century-old cavernous Grant Building and Kamal Mansion, and other sundry lodgings. When I went to Goa in 1970, a visit to Anjuna’s Hippie Flea Market had to be a must. All sort of things, varying from recycled clothes to tiny trinkets, were spread out, under the cocanut trees, on the weekly market day –Wednesday. And people flocked to it not as much as to buy things but to ogle at the scantily clad female sellers. The market was the magnet for deshi tourists who nearly went into a trance looking at the raw flesh on show. It was the best, free show-case for voyeurs in the pre- FTV and internet forn-sites era. I was not untouched by what I saw – but I had to concentrate on taking in the scene through the camera viewfinder. Some of these 40-year vintage photos are offered here with the hope that they will go into the web archives.
John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his website www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).
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