Goa is the land of beautiful beaches, lush paddy fields, cheap alcohol and hot parties. For many young Indians, it’s a mental and emotional retreat, an escape from their normal lives. But beneath this ‘tourist-friendly’ veneer is a seedy underbelly. It’s a fascinating, Wild West-like world (where anything goes) and I’ve been enthralled by it for some time.
It all started in the sixties when the hippies discovered the quiet beaches of Goa. They formed communes and flirted with Indian spirituality. But with the hippies, came the drugs.
My own Goan adventure began three years ago. A film project I was eagerly working on had suddenly collapsed and my personal life was a mess. It seemed like I had hit a wall. So I packed my bags and decided to get away from it all. I needed a new idea, a new story and Goa was the answer.
I started building my story by weaving it around real-life incidents I had become obsessed with, one of which was the horrific rape and murder of Scarlett Keeling, a fifteen-year-old British national who was found dead on Anjuna Beach. The case had all the hallmarks of a spectacular cover-up. Among the other incidents I researched was the arrest of Yaniv Benaim alias Atala, an Israeli drug dealer, who had boasted about his political contacts in a video that ended up going viral.
But these were high-profile incidents that got the media’s attention. As I soon discovered, there were many more that had simply slipped through the cracks. If you spend any time in Goa, you realize that drugs are omnipresent. They are offered to you everywhere: at parties, of course, but also at beaches, roadsides, hotels and pubs and, as it happened to me once, even outside a church.
I wanted to find out about the intricate details of the lives of the drug dealers and managed to befriend a couple of African peddlers in Arambol. They were warm and funny, but despite meeting them several times, they were too guarded to reveal much. But they did take me to my first-ever rave in a forested area in North Goa. Drugs sales were explosive in raves and gangs usually shared the bonanza with local legislators and policemen, who would give their blessings and protection to the party. A complex criminal ecosystem had fostered with a nexus between politicians, police and the gangs.
I didn’t make much headway trying to get the stories out of criminals, but there were bystanders who had witnessed what was happening in Goa, and they were willing to speak. The best stories came from the expats who had been living for in Goa for years (some for decades). They knew all the secrets and gossip of the town. I stitched together everything I heard and experienced, the textures, emotions and snippets of information into Anjuna Beats.
Recently, when I went back to a shack in Vagator that I once used to frequent, the manager sadly informed me that a tourist I often chatted to in the shack had been arrested for paedophilia. It was probably just a rumour, I told myself, but in Goa, the good and the bad collide everywhere.
Despite the darkness and horrors, Goa has its magic. It has a charm that can seduce the most world-weary. I knew that my story couldn’t just be about the dark side. It also had to be about the love and fun and joie de vivre we all feel when we think of Goa.
Check out Part I of Thomas Jacob’s Anjuna Beats exclusively on the Juggernaut app here.