Memoirs of a Hippie Girl in India – 1972
In the early 1970’s when I used to travel to Goa for my annual holidays I used to see a lot of hippies in Goa during that era. The hippies of that era were of a different cult and culture, then the ones you see today. Most of them used to shack up at Baga and Anjuna for months on end, till the government banned them from those areas. We used to see them in Goa with their huge bikes. Bikes and mini Vans driven down form Europe, Turkey, Afghanistan, Kathmandu and finally onwards to Goa. All the way with kettle, stoves and haversacks tied to their huge bikes or in their Vans. Pretty common observation in Goa then. The other interesting feature of that era was the Anjuna- Baga Flea markets.
We also saw a lot of these hippies in Pune area during that era because of the Rajneesh commune (ashram) at Pune
And what an era it was. The hippy phenomenon had flowered and gone to seed in the West, but it lived on in the mass migration to the mystic East that took place on the road to Kathmandu in the 1970’s. Suddenly, the answers to questions about peace and love, free sex and drug use seemed to have answers in an ancient culture that had pondered such matters for millennia. There were sadhus– spiritual mystics– who used pot; gurus advocating free sex based on Tantric scriptures. Religions like Jainism that were based on non-violence to all living creatures.
I happen to get acquainted with Ann BeCoy, now living in Canada and much of age, just recently, and she belongs to that era gone by.
In 1972, Ann a naïve eighteen-year-old Toronto girl found herself in Bombay with a boyfriend who turned out to be a drug addict. As his finances depleted, he attempted to set her up as a prostitute. He held her passport, her return ticket and her very life in his hands.
In order to escape she became a drug smuggler, carrying suitcases of hashish to Europe. At first successful, she later got caught and spent three months in a women’s prison in Bombay (now Mumbai).
Ann overcame numerous obstacles, but eventually got out of jail and found her first true love. Travelling the next nine months in India and Nepal, she met remarkable holy men, spent time in an ashram and a Buddhist monastery, and hung out with famous counter-culture characters such as Baba Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy and others. In a story spanning two years and two continents, Ann BeCoy eventually returned to Canada with a suitcase full of hash – and as a result spent a year in jail in British Columbia. While comparing Indian and Canadian prisons, her introspections led her to an understanding of the meaning of life and the consequences of bad decisions.
She came out a survivor and lived to tell the tale.
For more: read “Memoirs of a Hippie Girl in India” by Ann BeCoy at Amazon.
It is a rare that person who can review his or her life without resorting to spin; after all, who among us truly wants to portray ourselves publicly, warts et all? Ann BeCoy, in writing about her year in India in 1972, has achieved this feat and taken the reader inside the mind of a naïve 19-year old from Toronto who accidentally finds herself on a continent about which she knows absolutely nothing.
Ann BeCoy originally wrote in 1984, just twelve years after the experiences she describes, using the third person. This re-write, which was published in September 2013, in the first person, resists all temptations to comment from a mature perspective and allows us to participate in her journey as if we travelled with her. What a journey it was!
And what an era it was. The hippy phenomenon had flowered and gone to seed in the West, but it lived on in the mass migration to the mystic East that took place on the road to Kathmandu in the 1970’s. Suddenly, the answers to questions about peace and love, free sex and drug use seemed to have answers in an ancient culture that had pondered such matters for millennia. There were sadhus– spiritual mystics– who used pot; gurus advocating free sex based on Tantric scriptures; and religions like Jainism that were based on non-violence to all living creatures.
BeCoy knew none of this when she followed a boyfriend on a whim and landed in Bombay. She knew that drugs were involved and shady deals, men older than she was who found her attractive. She was totally unprepared for an India that in return knew nothing of hippies except their reputation for nudity and being free and easy in matters sexual. The clothes she brought with her–- miniskirts!-– lead her into a near-riot in the bazaar, and the sexually frustrated son of a middle-class Indian family who invites her to stay with them invades her bed one night.
I found BeCoy’s description of her months in Bombay’s Arthur Road jail simply riveting. Her writing gets repetitive here, but this technical flaw actually heightened the reading experience for me, because her lonely days were repetitive in the extreme. Isolated from the two men busted with her, and the sole Westerner in a group of Hindi-speaking women inmates, she alternates between despair at the labyrinthine legal processes, guilt at deceiving her parents (she sends them postcards describing fictional days exploring India), and disillusionment with the god of her Christian upbringing who refuses any response to her desperate prayers for release.
Even in this spiritual crisis, however, she proves to be way out of her depth. The hippies she spends time with in Goa, Delhi and Rishikesh are busy doing the rounds of the spiritual supermarket, and BeCoy gets to tag along to meetings with Osho (Bhagwan Rajneesh), Krishnamurti, Neem Karoli Baba et al., but BeCoy is far too immature to get much from any of them. There is a rare description of a personal encounter with Osho in which he experiments with energy work on her, but her 19-year old sexual hang-ups leave her seeing it all in terms of lust and leaving in disgust (just how confused it leaves her shows when she keeps the sanyas name, Diksha, that he gives her). Similarly, she admits that Krishnamurti’s talk is way over her head.
Poor BeCoy finds herself always an outsider, trying to adapt to two cultures (traditional India and hippy) that are both alien to her. She makes an effort, switching her mini-skirt for a sari, and going along to opium dens with the boys, and there are transitory moments of happiness, like a friendship in jail with a prostitute who teaches her chapati-making and Hindi songs and dances, and when two Osho sanyasins, Tony and Rene, bring her books and fruit in jail and befriend her upon her release. But young BeCoy seems to have a knack for picking losers, and her crisis comes to a head when her lover abandons her in an isolated cabin in the Himalayas. Soon, she is left with just two down-and-out drug runners to choose between as company. Inevitably her choice leads to a run, and the remainder of the book deals with the consequences as she lands back in Canada.
In resisting the temptation to comment as an author, BeCoy leaves the reader with many questions around what influence her six months in India has had on her life since (I look forward to the publication of Part 2, in which she promises to address this) and also pondering the general significance of the 60’s. Today’s interest in vegetarianism, Eastern spirituality, and non-violent resistance all have roots in the collision between the 60’s counter culture and India. Tibetan temples sprout in California, the Dalai Lama can command devoted crowds that everyday politicians must envy, Osho’s language has influenced nearly every spiritual teacher on the planet, and marijuana use is currently being legalized around the globe. Even if they are not fully aware of it, BeCoy’s heirs, the backpackers who today throng Goa’s beaches and Dharamsala’s hills, still imbibe a heady fusion of India’s vibe together with their cappuccinos and bongs. What they bring back with them and what they do with what they bring is an ongoing question for the world, as it must be for Ann BeCoy.
Not the styles of writing, but the lives. A young woman born to wealth in New York City in the late 1800s and a woman born to immigrants and middle class Toronto in the mid 1950s have the same binds. Whether the turn of the century or 1970s, they are each scrabbling to make enough to eat, borrowing. These two women are moving from the grace of one person who lets them stay at their house to another. In both, men around are doing high cash deals, pick up, and drop, women at their indulgence. The women form uneasy alliances. The women are without parental support, fledged early. They both want to live with the freedom of movement as a man has, but in one case she is stormed by a crowd and called a prostitute and police need to do crowd control, and the other, for going out after 9:00 pm, midnight even, is considered a bought woman as well. Recorded with a sharp eye, different countries, and, in some sense, different eras.
One more generation on, are we any further? Can men freely wear what they like? Can women and men talk in public without raising some version of a scarlet letter? Progress perhaps. Men still command higher incomes. And how much do well-meaning women and men still warn women not to walk alone, go out after certain hours, rather than making it practice to demand that all people can wear what they like and it not signify invitation to being harassed to walk at any time of the day?
The book wanders around India, or rather, the white hippie sub-culture, the yogis and posers, the underground. Like Wharton, whether noticing the monks chasing the raiding monkeys in the Himalayas, or describing the scene as the group drops LSD to see the Taj Mahal, there’s a detail of space and textures. Who are the servants? They are given room and board and no more, are slaves sleeping in the kitchen or on the door stoop, which is how middle class can afford servants. There are almost 2 pages of encountering how people in India bathe without electricity or hot running water. p. 102-103,
“Chandra knocked on my door and led me to a concrete stall with a single tap that was knee-high from the ground and a drain in the floor: I guessed this was the bathing room. There was a little wooden stool covered by a clean towel, and several buckets of steaming hot water. I was invited to undress discretely in a corner of the room curtained off for the purpose. When I stepped out, Chandra gestured for me to sit on the stool It occurred to me that she had probably been up for over an hour to supervise the boiling of the water. Even the suburbs of Bombay has no such luxury as hot water, so I knew the water would be heated on the pathetic little stove, a propane burner in the kitchen.[…] It felt odd and a bit discomfiting at first to have someone wash me from head to toe but it also felt luxurious, and when I finally surrendered, I discovered that I enjoyed this Indian way of bathing. I felt so babied, so pampered. For me it was doubly delicious after 3 months of self-bathing, self-nurturing and self-pitying [of being in jail with ticks and illness]. I felt mothered, loved and nurtured for the first time in a long time. Part of me wanted to stay forever with this delightful family.”
It was a fascinating journey to go in on of times and places that were ephemeral and distinct from life in mainstream Canada. Seeing her thought processes as new developments came to her teenage life as she made her way were interesting.
The book goes on to describes her continued adventures and misadventures as she seeks understanding of the Indian culture and along the way spends time in ashrams and monasteries and meets remarkable and not so remarkable men. Eventually, she returns to Canada but only to encounter more trouble and her journey takes a sad and unfortunate turn and she finds herself once again in jail.
She survives the culture shock of life in a Canadian prison all the while lamenting her lost dreams in India. Would she ever return to India and Goa ?