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Can't flea the fakes
It was the 1960s. They came looking for a good 'trip', with their bell-bottoms, flower power shirts and long locks. They came on bikes, Beetles and "magic buses". Hitchhiking their way all around the world, they soon stumbled upon Goa - and its laidback inhabitants - who best suited their temperament, needs and pockets. They were looking for 'instant karma' and wanted to 'give peace a chance' and on the virgin beaches of Goa they thought, just maybe, this was a possibility. After all, the booze was flowing and pot was just a puff away.
But all good things come to an end and the hippies' happy and carefree days too seemed numbered. Money lasts only so long. But that's where you're wrong. Because, counter cultural or not, they sure were enterprising when it came to financing their dropout lifestyle. They decided that it was worth selling their belongings to locals or fellow hippies from other parts of the world for a few bucks. It meant less baggage to take home and a few more days in paradise. And so was born the Anjuna flea market, one of India's oldest and most famous yard sales.
The hippies squatted under the palm trees looking out on the Arabian Sea and displayed their beads and trinkets. They auctioned their guitars and quite literally sold the shirts off their backs. Back then, laying your hands on foreign goods, albeit second hand, was quite a novelty. "I remember my first pair of Levi's jeans, they had a couple of holes and were worn out at the knees, but I loved them!" exclaims Albert Pereira, who is in his early seventies. "My father was working in the Gulf then, and everyone thought it was very funny that I was buying clothes from a second-hand market. But there was a joy in picking up things from there because you were buying a story, a part of history!"
Desis flocked in, more to ogle the flesh on view than to buy the tatty old clothes. But the flea market worked. Soon the hippies began to cook their own cuisines for all to sample and buy. Pots of chicken and beef stew steamed invitingly, roasted meats wrapped in pita bread with dollops of dressing and salads were lined in trays and served to passersby. It was like a taste of Europe and the Mediterranean in a Goan market. Foods with names like hummus, mutable and lafa were soon tripping of locals' lips. They didn't know where the dishes came from, all they knew was that they tasted fantastic. And in the blink of an eye, a makeshift means to make money metamorphosed into a weekly market. Their extended stay became a reality and for some, the market helped buy their passage back home. It didn't take long for other backpackers and tourists to fall in step with the unique style and rhythm of the flea market. The colours and fragrances captivated and held the attention of the traveller forcing him to leave reluctantly and definitely return.
And then before anyone realised it, it was the 1990s. Globalisation struck and capitalism became the order of the day. The market gained momentum with the hippies dwindling in number and hawkers hailing from Gujarat, Rajasthan, and the semi-nomadic Lamani tribe in Karnataka taking over the Goan tourist market scene. They set up shops all along the coast and soon took over the flea market. Today one can find Tibetans selling silver and Kashmiris convincing you their shawls are "pure Pashmina". They know whom to target and sit ready with their calculators and the day's foreign exchange rates. They speak in broken but accented English, sprinkling every sentence with the appropriate number of pleases, sorrys and thank-yous and rolling their Rs just enough for foreigners to understand. You might be forgiven for thinking they've all been to some sort of finishing school. With a smile pasted on, they haggle on and on and boy, have they got the art mastered! "Six hundred? No No! Eight hundred! Ok, not yours, not mine. . . seven hundred!" The market echoes with such refrains.
To say the market scene has changed would be an understatement. The roads to the flea market are backed up for at least two kilometres with BMWs and Mercs. Fields are converted into temporary parking grounds. Getting stuck in traffic is part of the shopping experience. Henry Diltz, renowned rock-and-roll photographer, on his maiden visit to the flea market, exclaimed, "Good lord! It's like Woodstock in here! And the people don't look all that different!" And Diltz is not wrong. The assortment of people are drawn from all walks of life, all corners of the world and all strata of society. There's the typical Bollywood tourist with her oversized designer shades, immaculately dressed and looking for something quirky that she can boast she got from the famous market, and right beside her you'll find a sadhu with matted dreadlocks and saffron robes willing to pose for an 'exotic' picture for a couple of crisp notes.
A regular patron of the makeshift bazaar, Rajat Varma, recounts his experience from two decades ago. "My wife and I had come to Goa on a little getaway from Delhi, " he says. "I bought a second-hand Rolex watch from a hippie on these very sands. Was it the real deal? You bet it was! It's still ticking back home!" Sadly today, it's all about the Genuine Fakes and factory surplus. Sayed, a businessman from Bombay, has decided to make the most of the booming tourism in the state. So he has a shop in Calangute where he sells designer knockoffs and every Wednesday he faithfully puts up a stall at Anjuna. His prices at the weekly market are almost four times as much as he charges at his shop. "Tourists don't mind paying, " he grins.
A tea stall, nestled between a stand selling healing crystals and a Lamani woman displaying beaded bags, claims to have been doing business here for two generations. The owner, known simply as Aunty, brews pots of masala tea and offers traditional Goan sweets and bhajjis all day long. If spoken to in Hindi or Konkani, she replies in English so perfect it's enough to give any call-centre employee a complex. Where did she learn to speak so well? "I've never been to school, I've learnt on the job, " she says. "I even speak a bit of Russian and French. " Aunty says it's important to make customers feel like they belong because the longer they sit at her stall, the more they're willing to spend. It is after all a business and she has to make rent.
The flea market no longer remains confined to just selling funky clothes and age-old artifacts. Set in the fields, it houses food stalls, live bands and tattoo artists. From mellow strummings of the guitar, the music scene at the flea market has shifted to loud, at times obnoxious, drumming and sometimes soulful crooning. However, what remains unhampered is the freedom to pick up an instrument and jam with friends and strangers alike. The flea market continues to perform.
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