I’ve spent the last few days trying to write a blog entry that does a good job of summarising my ambivalence at spending time in Goa. We’ve been here for the last few days, and it’s been a while since I’ve been to a place that has evoked such conflicting emotions. The good aspects of Goa are great: some of the best food I’ve had anywhere; some very pleasant beaches; a somewhat milder climate than the relentless heat and humidity of Mumbai. The bad aspects actually consist only of one thing: the people.
For those who don’t know, Goa is the centre of the hippie universe. And try as I might to like them, I just fucken can’t stand hippies. We’re in a place called Arambol, where the restaurants are all called things like “Jewels of Buddha” or “World Peace Cafe” – all with menus serving as much Israeli and German food as Indian – where every street stall sells Che Guevara t-shirts or tie-died shiznit decorated with “Om” symbols (almost certainly the only bit of Hindi any of the customers can read, no matter how long they’ve been in India) and you have to look hard to see an Indian face – apart from the Indians who make a living selling coconuts or jewelry to the tourists on the beach, everyone looks like they’ve walked straight out of a Xavier Rudd cover band.
So, as I’ve been sitting on the beach, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder. First, what in God’s name am I doing here? (An easy one to answer – the beaches are nice, and we fancied a quick break from Mumbai). Second, just why is it that these people shit me so much? What is it about hippies that really makes my skin crawl?
I’ve thought long and hard. After all, there are plenty of things to like about hippies – they might like their drugs, but they don’t get pissed and annoy people; they generally keep themselves to themselves; they don’t start wars. Surely they’re not such a bad bunch?
Argh, but I just can’t do it. It’s all just so bloody humourless and self-indulgent. And it’s so fake. Spend any time here and watch how the hippies treat the Indians – like shit, basically – and wonder exactly how concerned with universal love and happiness they are these days. Just like any other sub-culture – punk, hip-hop, whatever – hippiedom has been reassimilated into the mainstream and sold back to the kidz as a package deal. Goa is its Mecca and the summation of its faults.
If the original hippie idea was about anything, it was about individuality – the freedom to choose not to follow mainstream ideology, to absent yourself from a society that wanted you to fight and die in Vietnam, to choose self-sufficiency over wage-slavery, to make your own way in the world. All very well – a bit self-important, perhaps, but certainly based on noble ideas.
What, then, to make of Arambol, where everyone looks the same, acts the same, does the same drugs, listens to the same music? Sure, they like to have a very nice technoparty on the beach, maybe smoke something, have a very nice time, ha ha ha – but they’re a clique. A club. A club that regards outsiders with suspicion. And those who’ve joined the club have bought into a mass-produced version of rebellion and counter-culture, one that has as much in common with its founding ideals as Sum 41 or any of today’s other cartoon punk bands do with The Clash.
The Israeli kids who’ve come out of their two years of national service to grow dreadlocks and seek some sort of spiritual epiphany on an Indian beach – the fat middle-aged French couples with Om tattoos and Hindu tonsures – the Germans who’ve left their desk jobs to come here – the gap-year Brits who are spending their one year seeing the world before going back to be accountants… all of them, all they’re doing is trading one uniform for another. Take one step away from the prevailing orthodoxy – for example, wear a shirt with a collar on the beach – and you’re regarded with suspicion. It’s a deeply depressing spectacle, to be honest.
In his book Immortality, Milan Kundera has some interesting things to say about individuality. His theory is that in a world where there are only a finite number of traits – likes, dislikes, mannerisms, etc – by which people can distinguish themselves from one another, there are two ways in which people attempt to generate individuality. He calls these the addition method and subtraction method.
The subtraction method essentially involves shedding aspects of one’s life to distinguish one from others. But it’s the addition method that’s more relevant here. It involves collecting aspects of personality that distinguish you from others – a like for cats, or cold showers, or dope and dreadlocks – then proclaiming these to the world. I’m a hippie! I’m different to everyone else!
I might quote Kundera directly here, because I think this passage nails it perfectly: “[Such people] use addition to create a unique and inimitable self, yet because they automatically become propagandists for these added attributes, they are actually doing everything in their power to make as many others as possible similar to themselves; as a result, their uniqueness, so painfully gained, begins to disappear.”
And that, people, is Goa summarised. A wise man once advised me that if you look carefully at anyone you dislike, you’ll find an aspect of yourself that you dislike in them. So I’ve been doing a fair bit of self-appraisal as I watch the spectacle unfold. And I’ve learnt something here. I think Kundera’s addition method is something common to a lot of us. So if you’re going to be yourself, just bloody do it. Don’t shout about it. Don’t proselytise. And don’t go to Goa for the answers.
Now, off to find some fish curry for dinner.