Notes on the Ghosts of Anjuna, Goa

by Robert Hirschfield Nov 2, 2009
Robert Hirschfield shows that even on beaches like Anjuna, Goa, with “bare European breasts peering up” at you, somebody has to remember the ghosts.

She pointed to a spot in the sand. A spot like any other.

“That’s where they found Scarlett Keeling’s body,” Aimee Ginsburg told me. Ginsburg has lived for almost a decade in Goa. She is the India correspondent of Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest newspaper. I saw her as the all-seeing eye of videshi (foreigner) Goa.

We were walking on the beach in Anjuna. A heavy mist, like rolled iron, was banked over the Arabian Sea. A good day to contemplate young ghosts. Keeling, a fifteen-year-old British tourist, was raped and murdered in March of 2008. It inspired some in the Indian press to inveigh against the perils of hedonistic excess among Westerners who winter here.

I am interested in Goa because of its collection of strange ghosts. Jews were burned at the stake at Campo de Sao Lazaro during the Portuguese Inquisition in the sixteenth century. (Goa was a Portuguese colony until the 1960’s.) I personally am fond of the drug and bliss ghosts of the 60’s. Had I stayed on, I had the potential, I think, to be a good hippie ghost, discharging quiet sighs beneath coconut trees.

I was philosophical about the bare European breasts peering up at me lazily from the warm sand. Seeing them was in a way like seeing saddhus in Benares. They infused the beach with its particular character.

But sometimes the young girl’s shadow would make a noise, jamming my sensual signals. I’d walk on, saying her name under my breath.

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