The Trippy Life of the “Goalkeepers” of Goa’s Drugs

True Crime

The Trippy Life of the “Goalkeepers” of Goa’s Drugs

Illustration: Akshita Monga

There’s an old Goan saying that goes, “Football xetan pikta (Football grows in the fields.)” I’m reminded of this adage by Lawrence every time FC Goa’s defender, local boy Keenan Almeida, does his job of stealing the football from the opposing team’s midfielders. It’s early summer and Lawrence and I are drinking the season’s first urak at a cheap feni bar in Chapora, North Goa. I’ve been here just two months, but I know to steer clear of Chapora – a place best described as Dharavi meets Mogadishu, with its populace of crazed Russians on cocaine, ex-Brit punk rockers on MDMA, and Goans who’ve lived with these addicted expats long enough to become less high, but more savage versions of them.

In between sips of his urak-lemonade, Lawrence cheers, jeers, and swears at the CRT TV, showing the previous night’s game. Around us, the rickety chairs and grime-covered tables creak and sway under the weight of the scarred livers atop them.

Just before half-time, we’re joined by a four-foot tall Russian named Alexy. He begins conversing with Lawrence in perfect Konkani laced with a heavy accent, reminiscent of Ivan Drago from Rocky 3. Introductions are made in English, and Alexy is told I’m Lawrence’s cousin’s son visiting from Mumbai. Lawrence winks at me to play along. Both Lawrence and Alexy prattle on about everyday issues, right from littering tourists to the weather until Alexy casually mentions that he’s got a kilo of cocaine inbound from Bolivia. He wants to know if Lawrence still has friends in the Narcotics Control Bureau.

Lawrence shoots a look in my direction and Alexy gets the drift and leaves.

Both Lawrence and Alexy prattle on about everyday issues, right from littering tourists to the weather until Alexy casually mentions that he’s got a kilo of cocaine inbound from Bolivia.

Today, Lawrence is an upstanding member of Assagao village. He owns a local bar, fishing trawlers, a bunch of taxis, and a dozen bikes, which he rents out to tourists who come to Goa to “discover” themselves (usually through the unregulated use of hallucinogens). He works when he feels like it, wears enough gold to make Bappi Da blush, dyes his hair jet black twice a month, and goes to church every Sunday. Scratch the surface and you’ll know there’s a sordid secret that allows him to live the Goan dream.

Lawrence is a former goalkeeper. No, not the kind who stops footballs from finding the net. Back in the ’90s and early noughties, he was the custodian of narcotics in his hometown Ashwem. His house doubled up as a godown, a safehouse of sorts, where dealers stored cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, MDMA, hashish, quaaludes, and marijuana for a nominal fee.

Lawrence did not opt for the goalkeeper life because he was threatened by drug lords, nor did he do it to make big bucks. He did this out of necessity to avert what he calls “the end of the fucking world”. Lawrence’s doomsday scenario is a Goa where there is enough drugs on the streets for every man, woman, child, and dog to OD on. I ask him about the NCB and the police and he gives me an honest reply. There’s too much of stuff out there for the cops to police. Which only means that the dealings are rampant and the chances of drug violence escalating abound.

From 1985 to 2007, Goa, especially the north, was a psychedelic paradise, welcoming everyone with open arms and dilated pupils. In the midst of this euphoria, was Lawrence, then a 20-something happy-go-lucky boy with dreams of a job in the Gulf. In the late ’80s, he started a tiny omelette poi stall to cater to broke, starving hippies, befriending them, and then becoming a party organiser and a drug-deal facilitator. “But I never allowed drugs at my parties, men. I told all those trippers to come high or stay home,” he says.

Then one day, the idyllic high abruptly spiralled into a bad trip. Lawrence’s cousin dropped dead from an OD. Lawrence decided to exit this intoxicated world, the moment he hit the floor.

Lawrence immediately got in touch with all the dealers in the neighbourhood. He did not want bad blood between the inhabitants of his hometown. He made them a simple offer: Lawrence would hold onto the bulk of their drugs, in escrow, safely, at an unknown location – the storeroom in his house that was used to store coconuts they harvested from their land. The dealers would then make periodic withdrawals, overseen by Lawrence and enforced by a contact from the local police, a cop on the take. This would in some way regulate the flow of drugs on the street and minimise any untoward incidents.

When Lawrence had just started off, the police busted him on suspicion of drug dealing, He walked up to the officer, a DCP, and asked him whether he knew what would happen to Goa if all these drugs were to wind up on the streets at once. He then proceeded to rattle off a list of all the cops, who would sell the same drugs back to the dealers at wholesale rates in a heartbeat. This – in addition to the number of goons now surrounding the house – made the cops beat a hasty retreat.

With only the occasional summon from the cops to increase the bribe he paid them, the police gave Lawrence a wide berth. Over time, he began charging dealers for storage and even rented a godown in a remote area in the hills with security to store drugs.

This continued for almost 15 years – from 1993 to 2007, until he promised his dying mother to walk the straight and narrow. She feared for his life: Lawrence had been stabbed twice by Nigerian drug dealers. “They are crazy, you simply can’t reason with them.” But that’s not what made Lawrence step back. He was after all a mama’s boy.

Soon after her death, he returned the drugs to all parties concerned. What happened to Goa wasn’t his problem anymore. He sold his home and moved to his wife’s village of Assagao, where his reputation ensured that he’d be treated with respect tinged with fear. He has his set of enemies, but they stay away.

Trying to control the flow of drugs by being a “goalkeeper” is like administering intoxicants on drips. Sure you’re trying to beat the sudden rush, but the drugs still do a number on you. Lawrence occupies this twilight zone with pride. He sincerely believes that he was keeping his people on the street safe from drug-related violence while others OD’d on the beaches. His vigilante attempt at fighting drugs forms the crux of a number of philosophical arguments, all of which would be wasted on Lawrence, who wears his philosophy on his T-shirt. Today it says “Hate Us Coz They Ain’t Us”. His life is too simple for the complexities of morality.

Lawrence’s attention moves back to the TV. The game is almost over, as the FC Goa goalkeeper concedes another goal and a collective chorus of “chedeyechya” (son of a prostitute) suddenly erupts from all around us. He finishes his urak and sighs, “I don’t play football, but I was a better goalkeeper than this fellow.”