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Vol. 7, No. 6, 2008
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hush hush sweet Scarlett


Michael J. Evans



Michael Evans, a former art educator, is a West Coast artist, photographer and writer, who travels to India to find inspiration and spiritual renewal. For more details, visit:

Goa fascinates me. After a challenging and exhausting stint of volunteering with a team of American doctors in remote villages of Orissa, one of India’s poorest states, I was eager to travel west and chill out on one of Goa’s lush tropical beaches.

Established as a colony by the Portuguese in the 1660’s, Old Goa thrived. But trade eventually declined. It held out as a colony until 1961 when a small group of defenders fell to the Indian Army when it invaded the capital Panjim. Later in the sixties, free- spirited Goa was discovered by the hippie generation. Some vestiges of that sub-culture remain and thousands of tourists, both young an old, flock to its beaches each year in search of its promise of an earthly paradise.

Middle class Indians, flush with cash from either the Bollywood film industry in the North or the high-tech industry centered in Bangalore to the South, also flock to the state to buy up property for retirement and vacation homes. Goa’s booming tourist industry has long strained the resources of Dabolim Airport, presently operated by the Indian Navy. Goa’s infrastructure is also pushed to the limits. Most roads are narrow and rough, locally operated sewage and waste disposal systems are non–existent. On the bright side, a new International Airport will be built at Thrivem, in the north of the state. Gradually, major roads are being improved and developers are building four and five star resorts.

In an attempt to attract a broader range of tourists, the government has cracked down on late night rave parties. But problems of drugs and alcohol still exist and a darker side to Goa’s success has emerged as native Goans, Israelis and Russians struggle in turf warfare over the lucrative booze and drug trade. Police corruption is rife and now the safety of tourists is being questioned as the world’s attentionis drawn to the tragic event that occurred in Anjunain in February of this year and
led me to write about an experience I had associated with it as I walked along Anjuna Beach, shortly after arriving in Goa

© Michael EvansI’m standing with my back to the Arabian Sea. The wind is up and surf crashes on the beach behind me as its spray and hot salty gusts of wind push me forward, almost off balance; but I’m being supported by the strong and steady hands that I’m holding, to my left and to my right.

Eyes closed; my visual field is deep dark red. I’m being suspended in a timeless moment and I’ve become the roar of the surf, the shove of the wind on my back, and the steady stream of tears that flow down my cheeks and drip, drip, drip to the sand below.

I’m trying to sense differences in the texture, the strength of the grip, and the energy in the hands I’m holding, but I can find none. Their energy and mine has merged into a continuous field of energy that is flowing through the 150 pairs of linked hands that form the outer circle of a mandala that has been spontaneously created this afternoon on the windswept and blackened sands of Anjuna Beach, Goa.

An unbearable lump has formed in the back of my throat. It is choking my breath. I suppress the urge to let go -- to relax both my grip on the hands that I hold, and my emotions.

A few more minutes pass. My breath now comes in halting gasps, my throat is constricted. My heart labors, my guts ache. I’m in pain, a deep systemic pain over the loss of a young life, needlessly taken, criminally wasted before it ever had time to flower and bloom into maturity.

Using a skill learned from yoga, I consciously slow my breath until it is deeper and more rhythmic. Soon the tightness in my chest eases and my throat relaxes, the physical pain subsides. My breath softens, and I’m able to open my eyes and gaze once more at the beautiful, yet distressing sight in front of me. Focusing on a cluster of white roses in the center of the mandala, I allow their exquisite forms to refresh me and ease my transition to acceptance and peace.

On my left, I hold the hand of Oystein, a 6 feet tall, 35-year-old Norwegian journalist. To my right, I hold the hand of a slightly built, 60-year-old local Goan beach vendor called Hejera. I scan the circumference of this almost perfectly formed circle of silent souls, young and old, white and black, gathered here by happenstance from all parts of the world and now united in this spontaneous outpouring of grief.

© Michael EvansMy eyes follow the long flowing outer lines of the lotus petals of the mandala. It was created by the hands of many: mothers, children and passers-by, who scooped out shallow depressions, and filled them lovingly with hundreds of orange, red and purple marigold blossoms. A man in a loincloth has knelt to strike a brass bell; he has taken the role of leader of this impromptu memorial service. Its chime persists. An aroma of Frankincense rises from small burners placed in the flowers and gently wafts over the crowd.

My eyes continue to follow the sensuous lines that form the graceful arcs of the mandala’s lotus petals. Eventually, they return again to the center, the still point, and the cluster of four dozen or more roses, red and white, whose stems have been planted in the sand.

Among them have been placed two black and white photos of Scarlett Eden Keeling, a beautiful Scarlett Eden Keeling16-year-old British girl, whose semi-nude body was found on this exact spot, six days ago at 7 a.m. on Feb 18th. There is also a card commemorating her life that contains a plea for any information that might shed light on the circumstances of her death.

Police are being very tight lipped about the case. She was last seen alive at 4 a.m. A post mortem was conducted that claimed the cause of death was drowning. It also stated “300 ml. of clear odourless liquid was found in the viscera.” Little information has appeared in the local press. Her mother is distraught, she found several items of Scarlett’s clothing, including her panties, in a back lane some distance from the beach. She believes her daughter was murdered and has hired a lawyer to oversee the investigation.

In the morning, before breakfast, I decide to return to the memorial site next to Lui’s Bar. During the night, the high tide has dissipated the mandala. Its orange, red and purple blossoms of marigolds are now strewn in a thin line marking the highest point of the tide. A small cluster of dampened roses remains at the place where her body was found. I follow the line of flowers -- this debris of mourning -- that extends 200 yards towards South Beach. It is mixed now with cigarette butts, boxes and square clippings from newspapers. I stoop to pick one up. It is in Russian. At the end of the line I turn around and start walking back up the beach.

I pass some dogs that are sleeping in shallow depressions in the sand; four cows are slowly ambling down the beach towards me and are being overtaken by a few early morning joggers. As I approach Luis’ Bar, three waiters are sweeping the marigolds away from the sand by the café. I walk past them and then turn around again. One of them is standing over the remaining cluster of roses. He looks around, gives them a few desultory sweeps of his brush and then shockingly, picks them up and tosses them into his rubbish bag. Then, even more vigorously, he sweeps away the remaining marigolds and evens out the depression in the sand. In a few moments, the sand in front of Lui’s Bar is cleared of all traces of Scarlett Eden Keeling’s life. The sleazy business of Goa’s tourism, catering to unbridled excess and indulgence, fuelled by cheap booze and easy access to drugs and hypnotic Trance and Techno music, must go on for another day.

Walking back up the beach, I pass a group of Russians who have already taken up positions on their sun beds. It is like entering a war zone. At least half of them have bandaged heads. Large swaths of their bodies are painted with orange iodine, covering raw and pink areas of flesh, where skin has been ripped away by sudden and violent collision with rough road surfaces. They are victims of the innumerable motorcycle and scooter accidents that befall many of the 250,000 tourists that visit Goa each season. Many are fatal. I move past them and my stomach tightens as I react to the memory of my own accident three years ago. I too had earned my Anjuna Scar the first day I rented a scooter for 100 rupees.
I walk on down the red dirt lane towards the Anjuna taxi stand. A few hopeful stall keepers beckon me into their shop. I pass over the narrow bridge that goes over a dried up gully that is now choked with a stinking pile of plastic water bottles, rags and dead birds. Then, I ease my way up the rough path that rises towards the taxi stand. I pick my way slowly. On the path in front of me is a large dead rat; crows have plucked out its eyes.

As I walk around it, I recall that in the 1600s, the Portuguese called Goa their “Paradiso.”

© Michael Evans

A week or so later, an English friend of mine, a long time resident of Goa invited me for coffee and advised me to keep a very low profile as my activities of writing and taking photographs had been observed by people in the “wrong circles.” I was near the end of my trip and planned to leave in a few days anyway; I was unperturbed.

On the train to Mumbai I shared a sleeper compartment with a couple of charming, well educated retired Indian businessmen. We discussed police corruption and they told me it was common knowledge in India that officers in the higher echelons of the various police forces placed bids to secure transfer to postings in Goa, the potential for profit on the side there was so great.

The story of Scarlett’s murder and its aftermath eventually drew the attention of the world press, including CNN. Initially, the Goan police claimed Scarlett died accidentally by drowning. The autopsy had shown salt water in her lungs. However, during the identification process , Scarlett’s mother, Fiona Mackeown observed over fifty bruises and abrasions on her daughter's body Suspecting foul play, she questioned the validity of both the police investigation and the autopsy. She demanded a proper investigation and second autopsy. Eventually, under intense pressure, the Goan police fired the chief investigating officer of the case. A second autopsy was carried out and it confirmed rape and murder. Two barmen were subsequently arrested and charged with the crime. One of them was the barman observed cleaning away the roses outside Lui’s bar, the morning after her memorial service.

Later, a witness to the crime, British tourist Michael Manyon, who was in Lui’s bar the night of the murder, received death threats. Fearing for his life, he fled to Mumbai where he went into hiding. He returned to testify only after receiving guarantees for his safety from the courts.
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