Watch Out, the Hippies are Coming!

I often wonder what Indians and Nepalis think of the droves of foreign travelers that end up in their countries looking for escapism and self-discovery. What do they think of the dreadlocks, the backpacks, the brightly-coloured clothes with prints of the gods and goddesses on them? And what about the boozing, smoking and partying? I suspect that many of them think that travelers (and many an NGO worker or expat on their weekends) are just unwashed reprobates who should get a proper job.

An American Phd student I know who was studying Hindi in Varanasi told me that his landlord used to refer to such Westerners simply as the pagal log (mad people).

The subject of Westerners in South Asia -and their loose morals – is the subject of Dev Anand’s hit film Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971). Two siblings, Prashant and Jasbir, are separated when their parents divorce; Prashant goes to India with his mother and grows up to be a pilot and a man of traditional values. His sister Jasbir, who has been led to believe that her brother and mother are dead, grows in Canada but runs away to Kathmandu where she lives with a group of hash-addled hippies. Prashant decides to go to Kathmandu to find the long-lost Jasbir (who by this point has made the definitive two-fingered gesture at her own culture by re-naming herself ‘Janice’) and remind her of her family and values.

Dam Maro Dam, sung by legendary playback singer Asha Bhosle, was the hit track of the film. In this scene, ‘Janice’ and her band of hippies are at their favourite spot, ‘the bakery’, where they are clearly indulging in stronger things than cinamon rolls and muesli.

I was reminded of this film by my friend Eli, during a conversation about how funny it is watching TV in a language that you don’t understand. ‘There was this really weird film in Hindi on TV the other night which featured some kind of fight scene in Bhaktapur. And hippies!’ he said, to which I replied (maybe a little too enthusiastically) ‘I know that film! It’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna!’ It was one of those moments when it dawned on me that I probably spend too much time watching Hindi movies.

The shame of this clip that I got from youtube is that it doesn’t include Prashant’s moral aside which appears in the full-length version of the song, in which he sings something along the lines of: O hippies, do not take the name of Lord Rama in vain. Return to your families. Stop wasting your lives away and take baths. Marry. Work hard at a fulfilling and financially rewarding occupations and diversify your investment portfolios… (OK, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit here, but you get the picture)

Hare Rama Hare Krishna was pretty avante-garde for its time but still remains relevant today. Whenever you get a large settlement of backpackers -or indeed, ‘internationals’ (NGO workers, journalists, employees of international agencies) – in a highly traditional society you are bound to have a clash of values at some point.  Maybe in an updated version of this film we might see Janice going out and getting trashed of a Friday night with a bunch of hard-drinking white NGO-wallahs and journalists.

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2 Responses to “Watch Out, the Hippies are Coming!”

  1. have you got that movie? because i’d really like to watch it. my friend and i are watching “andaz apna apna”. watch-ing, because we’ve had two sittings through parts but don’t ever quite finish it.

    also, when you are in ktm next, ask me what we think of foreigners traveling/living in nepal(and i suppose i can speak for india too. i only lived there like for 7 years) and i’ll tell you the truth!

  2. i look forward to hearing what you think!

    I wish that foreigners living and working in South Asia could be just a little bit more self aware. sometimes we behave like total jerks.. whether flaunting a white sai baba robe or a ‘white rino’ car from a multilateral or NGO

    That’s kinda what the point of this blog is about… giving some closer analysis and reflection on these situations

    I do have hare rama hare krishna on DVD but i promised it to Eli first 😉

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