BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
The arrest of Russian Andre by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of Mumbai and the discovery of narcotics in his rented room in Ashvem, Mandrem, has not shocked the locals. But, it has left the elderly saddened about the manner in which tourism is shaping the once-quaint place.
“I never dreamt that he would be using my room to sell drugs. It came as a shock to me. Food is normally kept in fridges, and I was shocked when I came to know this guy had used it to keep drugs,” disclosed Clifford, the owner of the room that was let out to Andre.
“I had entered the room once to repair it before the monsoons last year, but neither I nor the carpenters found anything suspicious. The catch has really shocked us all,” confessed Clifford.
“Andre is not a stranger to us as he has been coming for the last twelve years. He has been staying in the same room and has never given us reason to doubt him, though it was becoming clear that the drug supply and consumption by visiting tourists had started,” stated a resident on the condition of anonymity.
“Prior to his arrest, I saw him (Andre) discussing something with an Indian I had never noticed before. He then went for a swim and was picked up by four Mumbai police as he was climbing the steps towards the chapel,” stated a villager who was a witness to Andre’s last steps of freedom.
“As soon as he was caught, the police asked me whether I was aware where he (Andre) was staying, and he kept signalling not to cooperate with the police. I was scared and pretended I did not know anything,” was how another villager described the movements after Andre’s arrest.
“Andre, it appears, indicated the wrong house to the police and that infuriated the actual owner, who pinpointed to the police the owner of the room where Andre was staying,” disclosed another individual whilst showing disdain for the manner in which tourism is tarnishing the image of the place.
“The owner Clifford took the police directly to the room and opened the door, and it was when the fridge was opened that the extent of the drug peddling going on in our ward became clear," muttered an elderly man as he sat next to the cross from where Andre was picked up.
“Drugs worth 28 lakhs, it is said, were found in the fridge, next to our house? This boy has been coming here for twelve years, and I just cannot imagine how he corrupted the whole place with his activities,” pondered another villager.
“He looked like a normal guy otherwise. He had the habit of going to the beach every evening, and before entering the water, would light a local bomb that would leave all the dogs howling. He did this until before the pandemic. He used to eat well and exercise a lot,” disclosed a lady from the ward.
“When he first came to the village, he would hire bikes from us and would go to Anjuna and return. As years passed, he started getting his own bikes and had even stopped hiring the car. He used to travel a lot to North India with his own car,” described a villager who used to interact with Andre.
Andre, according to sources of the Mumbai NCB, was picked up after the arrest and subsequent interrogation of Akash from North India who was staying in Arambol.
“I have seen Africans coming and dealing with Russians here. There were times I thought of filming such visits, but later thought that I would end up as the scapegoat, and hence have been ignoring such visits and looking the other way,” stated another disgruntled villager.
“Andre would sometimes go near that bridge, meet a boy from India and hand over something to him. I never thought he would be selling drugs because he used to pay Rs one lakh twenty thousand a year for his room, which he used only when he was here,” said another source linked to Andre.
As the news of the drugs seized in Andre’s room filters down to the villagers, life in Ashvem continues uninterrupted.
Many locals have realised the onus is on them for opening the doors to tourism for a “fast buck”, as some elders would say.