In 1968 author Lewis Lapham was a staff writer for the Saturday Evening Post. He was expecting to be sent on assignment to Vietnam by managing editor Otto Friedrich. Instead, he was told to head for India, where the Beatles were making a pilgrimage to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas to study his method of transcendental meditation. Friedrich was highly amused, but told Lapham to gain entrance to the ashram in Rishikesh, despite information that there were to be no interviews with the Beatles, no cameras and heavy security. Ever resourceful, the author attempted to win the confidence of the Maharishi’s American deputies before heading to India and asking for a taxi to take him to Rishikesh. The driver did not imagine for one moment that Lapham was heading for a religious pilgrimage. “Yes, good,” he said. “We go Beatles.”
This short book gives a memorable account of the author’s time in India with the Beatles and other celebrities, such as Donovan, Mia Farrow and Mike Love. He found George and John to be the most serious about studying under the Mararishi, while the affable Ringo had come along for the ride – but whose wife Maureen was less than impressed with all the insects – and Paul was there because the others were, but was taking it all with a heavy pinch of salt. There seems little doubt that the Maharishi was delighted that the Beatles had arrived and that he saw them as a way of helping his movement spread worldwide – his motives are open to interpretation, cynical or otherwise, and I think the reader can make up his own mind. However, soon there are ugly rumours about attentions paid by the Maharishi to female members of the entourage and suspicion abounds.
Really, this book does not have enough detail to merit more than 3.5 stars, but it is a little explored period of the Beatles history and so will have relevance for fans. His thoughts on the Beatles and wives are interesting – Cynthia seemed ‘sad’ and Jane Asher dreamt wistfully of visiting the Taj Mahal in moonlight. This period is covered in Cynthia Lennon’s autobiography, “A Twist of Lennon” – later rewritten as “John” and she explains her marital problems in depth there. The fact that her depression was obvious to an outsider shows how worried she was at the time. I enjoyed this book, but even if it had been twice as long, it wouldn’t have covered the time in enough detail for me. There are only two real chapters in the book (and a short postscript) and the Beatles don’t even appear until the second chapter. I am glad I read it though, and although it will only really appeal to hardcore fans it does give a nice description of the Beatles Indian interlude.