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With the Beatles in India
Page 5  (Previous Page | Next Page)

The ashram food was a major topic. It was good but bland. Someone said that the Maharishi didn't want any of our meditations interrupted by upset stomachs from hot Indian spices. Mal quickly cracked everyone up with "Well, Ringo definitely won't have that problem!" One of Mal's responsibilities was descending to town each morning to buy fresh eggs and cooking them for Ringo, to go with his baked beans. Ringo had arrived in India with two suitcases: One filled with clothes and the other with cans of baked beans. Mal later told me that Ringo, as a child, had been in and out of hospitals with stomach problems and now always watched his food carefully when he traveled. George and John, already vegetarians when they arrived at the ashram, said they had no problems, but Paul was missing meat.

As we sat together, John, Paul, Ringo and George exuded a truly down to earth decency and warm-heartedness, without any airs. As a couple, George and Pattie were self-contained and quiet. They seemed very much in love. Pattie's sister Jennie was young, about eighteen, always happy, and very beautiful-she was a model at the time. Ringo and Maureen had just had their second child together and seemed so comfortable, like an old married couple.

As I spent time with the Beatles, together or individually, Paul was the most overtly warm and friendly. Jane Asher was a lovely-hearted woman whose striking red hair framed a freckle-filled face of beauty and intelligence. Unlike the other Beatles and their partners, Jane and Paul were openly tactile and affectionate. John and Cynthia were different. They were both bright and friendly with me but distinctly distant and cool with each other.

It was getting towards evening, the sky turning a lovely pale pink, and across the Ganges the sounds of Rishikesh were fading into dusk. A flight of forty or fifty beautiful emerald-green parrots landed dramatically in a nearby tree and glimmered like jewels in the evening light. Gradually, people got up to leave our gathering spot near the cliff's edge until everyone had left, except John and me. He was quiet, even a bit sullen, and I got the sense he wasn't happy. I asked him how long he was staying.

"We're all taking the Maharishi's course for three months, including Mal, and who knows after that." He looked at me very warmly and smiled, "What about you?"

I told him about my trip, the heartbreak and how I felt about the miracle of meditation. That I'd probably hang around for just a few more days. He picked up a glass of water and, after almost finishing it, said that meditation had certainly been good for him, so far. After a moment he looked at me and gently added, "Yeah, love can be pretty tough on us sometimes, can't it?" We both sat quietly. It felt like a moment suspended in time. A lone hawk circled in the sky just above us and out over the river, so close we could see its talons. I looked at John and our eyes met. He smiled and said, almost mischievously, "But then, the good thing is, eventually, you always get another chance, don't you?" "For sure," I said. We were silent again, and after a while John said, "Off to write me music, then."

It was an important moment for me. John was reminding me to maintain perspective; in the words of Aldous Huxley, "maintaining fair witness". We got up and walked together to the bungalow where he was staying. I continued on to my tent. It wasn't until some months later that I read all about John and Yoko and realized that, that night, he had been talking not only about me, but also about himself.

The Inner Light

In the morning, as I finished meditating, Raghvendra came and said it was time for me to meet the Maharishi. I followed him out into the intense Indian sun and walked to the Maharishi's whitewashed bungalow. His house sat in a grove of trees at the edge of the cliff. We walked up the stone path, crossing the well-kept lawn between two small fountains, past flowerbeds filled with yellow and orange marigolds. Several steps led up to a wide porch where we left our sandals. We entered a small, bright meditation room, separate from his private quarters, in back. There was a low dais for the Maharishi and the floor was covered with white futons.

We sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the dais and waited. A few minutes later, voices approached from outside. The door swung open and, after removing their shoes and sandals, John, Paul, Ringo, George, Cynthia, Pattie, Maureen, and Jane all came in.

"Hi, Paul, how are you?" asked Ringo.

"Excellent," I said.

"That's what happens here," said George, smiling, as everyone sat cross-legged around us.

After a moment the Maharishi came in from his room and sat on the dais. He put his palms together and said, "Namaste." with a giggle of joy. We returned the greeting. After some general words of welcome, hoping we were all getting along well, he asked George about the small black tape recorder he'd brought with him. "Is it a new song, George, or shall I recite the Vedas?" the Maharishi giggled again. "A new song," George answered, "I just recorded it in Bombay last month."

George pressed the play button and began to sing along with his recorded voice and music, smiling shyly like a new father as his song, The Inner Light, filled the room. The Maharishi, rolling his prayer beads between his fingers, laughed approvingly.

The Maharishi never did notice me but I didn't mind at all. Sitting right beside George, listening to him sing, I felt blessed.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

A couple of days later, late in the afternoon, I heard guitars and the sound of Paul's and John's voices. They were sitting with Ringo among the potted plants on the steps of their bungalow. I got my camera and after taking a few pictures through the chain link fence, opened the gate and joined them. They were strumming their Martin D-28 acoustic guitars, singing fragments of songs, musically meandering through some of my favorites: Michelle, All You Need Is Love, Norwegian Wood, Eleanor Rigby and others.

Ringo was dressed in his favorite heavy, gold-brocade Nehru jacket and jeans, with his ever-present black bag over his shoulder and his silver 16mm camera case nearby. He was calm, quiet, almost motionless. Of the four Beatles, he appeared the most serene, the most grounded, the most at ease with who he was. Late in his life, John said, "People think Ringo was the least of the Beatles. Actually, he was the heart and soul of the group."

Having been photographed so often, and in the completely informal ashram setting, they paid no particular attention to the camera. Paul started strumming again and John joined in. Paul had a slip of paper sitting on the step beneath him and he started to sing the words that he had scribbled down. It was the refrain to Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. They repeated it over and over again--working with it, playing with it--and when they paused for a moment Paul looked up at me with a twinkle in his eyes and said, "That's all there is so far. We don't have any of the words yet."

John chuckled with pleasure at his new folk-guitar picking technique he said Donovan had been teaching him. Some time later Ringo mentioned dinner was ready but as John got up, Paul started to sing and play Ob-La-Di again. John couldn't resist and fell in with him, playing and singing very upbeat. Then Ringo joined in, finger-snapping the rhythms. By then the sun had dropped behind the hills. A gentle aroma of evening jasmine drifted over the grounds, a peacock shrilled off in the woods, and after a while we all headed off to eat.

>>Continued on Page 6...

This article is Copyright © 2006, Paul Saltzman, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission.

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