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The hippie who got Goa the globe

The hippie who got Goa the globe

Andrew Pereira | Nov 22, 2015

 

He didn't visit international travel fairs, have a marketing and PR team, or a multi-crore budget like the state government does, but he got Goa it's first international tourists, the hippies, flocking to its beaches in droves.

And yet, he achieved it without doing much, hardly lifting a finger — or to be precise, any of his eight fingers.

"I was never a hippie," he said at the end of his life of 85 years, much of which was spent freewheeling in Anjuna wearing loose-fitting, colourful clothes, and hanging out at the flea market he started while listening to the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Instead, Eight-Finger Eddie described himself as "the first freak in Goa", arriving in 1966 never to leave again.

But that didn't stop him from being named "the king of hippies" for his carefree, unkempt existence, living day-to-day on Anjuna's then-pristine empty beach and, at one point, running a soup kitchen for lost travelers. Born Yertward Mazamanian to Armenian immigrants in the US in 1915, Eddie claimed to have spent his initial years as an obedient 'honours student' before veering off course to live life the way he wanted to. He found himself in Kathmandu, Nepal, every monsoon, and for the rest of the year, helped put Anjuna on the world's hippie trail.

In some ways, Eddie kicked off a lifestyle that came to be synonymous with Goa's 'tourist image' around the world, bringing in hundreds of international tourists who would spend months among the locals. A notice of his death, which appeared in the newspapers, claimed he was 'a guiding light for travelers" and "the first foreigner who settled on south Anjuna beach, which became the last station of the hippie trail".

Oystein Krogsrud, a close friend from Norway, recalled: "More waves of hippies kept arriving on Anjuna's shores, and Eddie gave them shelter. He was the oldest of the hippies, 45 years of age then, while the rest were in their 20s."

The young freewheeler and his friends would most often subsist on the generosity of Goans at the time. They lay their heads on the locals' floors and ate what they could afford. In 1969, a close friend of Eddie found a house in Anjuna, now the property of an architect called Malcolm Rodrigues, and they decided to leave it open for anyone who cared for a roof above their heads and a meal to soothe a hungry stomach. "Whoever wants to can move in," Eddie once said. "We won't ask for money and we won't ask for anyone to work in this house. Those who wish to contribute may do so. If there's not enough money, I'll provide it."

Eddie, who earned the prefix Eight-Finger because he was born with only three fingers on his right hand, suggested it was also a common financial situation that threw the early hippies together. "In those days, they came over land from Europe in camper vans and no one had any money." His apparent disregard for breaking into a sweat to earn a living came long before Goa happened to Eddie. He managed to avoid being enlisted in military service during the Second World War and was laid off after a short service with General Electric. "I abhor work, begrudging every moment I've wasted as a wage earner," he confessed in his memoirs 'Eight Finger Eddie: My Rise to Relative Obscurity', which documents his experiments with sex, drugs and travel. "My aim in life is to get through life doing what I want to do."

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Even though he was considered the king of hippies, Eddie didn't see himself as one. "Hippies were kind of naive," he said. "They wanted to change the world. I see myself as a hipster, a generation even before the beatniks." Still, the locals loved the hippies' strange lifestyle of not doing much, smoking up and bartering items at the flea market. Dominic Fernandes, a local writer, said: "They were in love with the place and we fell in love with them because of the way they lived. At the market, people gave things away or it was free. It was like a party."

The market that Eddie started later ballooned into a bustling retail space with overpriced trinkets and wares with marijuana prints. Anjuna, too, morphed from a quiet, obscure village with a few homes into a retail centre hanging on to the early hippie hangover to sell itself. But Eddie didn't seem to care about the change. "Some people say it's not like it used to be, and it's not," a newspaper quoted him saying. "But I like it here now. I like the parties and I like the music. It's good to dance to."

It's the sort of attraction drawing backpacking visitors to Goa that authorities are trying to change, hoping to cater to rich, high-end tourists. But Tony Almeida, who owns Anjuna's first restaurant, Joe Banana, prefers the backpackers. "Unlike charter tourists who stay and eat in starred hotels, the hippies gave to the locals," he said. "Even today, it is the backpackers who patronise the villagers and help the locals earn from tourism. We are ever grateful to Eddie for what he has done for Goa."

Eddie, who relished his vegetarian thali at Joe Banana's every afternoon for the 45 years he spent in Anjuna, was sought out by journalists for stories about the new hippie haven. Krogsrud, himself a journalist, explains: "There were journalists covering the hippie movement. Eddie had become quite famous by then, and was interviewed by several writers. That's how the word Goa started to appear in magazines and foreign journals as a tourist place."

While Eddie claimed to have "liked Goa so much I just wanted to stay", he never let go of his American passport, a newspaper claimed. Every 10 years, he made the trip to Mumbai to replace it and get his residential permit in order. And despite his meagre existence, it has been suggested that Eddie had $20,000 stashed away in a Swiss bank, a sum that made no appearance when he took ill. Krogsrud began a campaign to raise money for Eddie's medical bills and generated $2, 250. Some of it contributed to his funeral expenses, a cremation by Hindu rites, which was broadcast over the internet via a live-stream video.

But he leaves behind few belongings, including a diary with rather illegible scribbling, the task Krogsrud has taken upon himself of deciphering and unravelling more mysteries of the man whose ashes are now one with Anjuna, the place he once called home.

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