The Beatles were in Rishikesh at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram and my editor at ‘The Statesman’ asked me to go and get their photos. I reached the ashram the next day, as did many other journalists. We were all herded into a guest house by the Maharishi’s disciples and told to wait. The day wore on; we kept waiting. By 3.30-4pm, our patience was running out.
Fortunately for me, my colleague Saeed Naqvi was inside the ashram all this while. He managed this by pretending to be a follower of Mahesh Yogi. A disciple came to me with a note from Saeed, asking me to come inside. Saeed had worded the note ambiguously on purpose and this put me in a quandary—did he want me to come with or without my camera? I always wear a ‘labada’ (cloak) over my clothes when it is cool, and now I decided to put it to good use. I hid my camera, with a big zoom lens attached to it, under my cloak and followed the disciple inside.
Colour burst: Naqvi (right) applies colour to McCartney on Holi at the ashram. (Photograph courtesy Saeed Naqvi)
Saeed was standing outside a cluster of rooms meant for visitors and disciples. “Where have you been?” he asked me, feigning irritation. “I have been waiting for you.” About 200 yards from where we were was the Maharishi, seated under a tree, surrounded by people. In the front, sitting in a row of chairs, were the four Beatles and Mia Farrow. The disciple who had escorted me in was still with us.
How do I get rid of him?
“Bhai sahab,” I said. “Subah se khada hoon; agar ek glass paani mil jaata.” (I have been standing since the morning; could I have a glass of water?) I quickly got my camera out when he left, but I didn’t even have time to focus and I saw him coming back, glass of water in hand. I gulped it down, handed it back to him and asked for a refill. By the time he returned, I had shot a frame, maybe two, and put the camera back inside my cloak.
Saeed and I decided to head back to Delhi. At the guest house, the journalists were still waiting. They cast suspicious glances at me and wanted to know why I was suddenly leaving. I said I was tired of the pointless waiting. A senior reporter from ‘The Times of India’ gave me a knowing look. “Rascal,” he said. “You woudn’t ever leave unless you got your scoop.” He was right.
(As told to Himanshu Bhagat)
Whenever the West seeks solace, solitude or simply, freshly cut grass, it turns to India. Here’s a pick of artists, poets and writers who’ve graced our spiritual land
The writer first came to India with his mother, during their travels across Asia and Africa. He returned a decade later as private secretary to the Maharaja of Dewas. This inspired both his famous book, ‘A Passage to India’, and also his first homosexual relationship.
Six months was all it took this seasoned LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) tripper to grasp Indian mysticism. He later wrote a remarkable introduction to the ‘Bhagvad Gita’ translated by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda. Huxley remained a lifelong adherent of Hinduism, Buddhism and LSD.
The Swiss psychiatrist, known as the father of analytical psychology, inspired several important artists and writers such as Herman Hesse and James Joyce. A brief trip to India in 1938 opened his eyes to Eastern mysticism, the spiritual within the mundane, and the concept of the unconscious. All these would have a lasting impact on his work.
The best-selling author’s 1944 book ‘The Razor’s Edge’ begins with an inscription from the Katha-Upanishad. The book owes much to Maugham’s Indian wanderings, including visits to Shri Ramana Maharishi’s ashram in 1938. Maugham, some say, foresaw the West’s fascination for Eastern culture—which reached its acme two decades later.
The neo-realist Italian film-maker longed to make a movie on young India’s trials and tribulations. He was thrilled when Nehru invited him. But his visit ended in scandal, and he returned to Italy with a little more than film footage: a married woman named Sonalini Dasgupta. That also meant the end of his marriage to Ingrid Bergman.
Allen Ginsberg’s cult book ‘Howl’ (1956) inspired an entire generation. The beat poet arrived in India having heard much of our gurus and spiritual solutions. An interesting highlight of his trip, however, was asking the Dalai Lama if drugs were an acceptable path to nirvana.
Kahn was found dead in the restroom of a railway station in New York on his way back from India in 1974. He had been a fan of the subcontinent. The architect’s design for the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad and the Bangladeshi parliament in Dhaka stand testimony to his remarkable talent.
Farrow was halfway through ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) when husband Frank Sinatra handed her divorce papers. What better reason to arrive in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh? Farrow, we assume, found peace and quiet, along with the Beatles.
Alanis Morissette —1997
‘Jagged Little Pill’, Morissette’s debut album released in 1995 and became the largest-selling debut in history. But Morissette soon tired of the parties, the drugs and the fame. She took to Iyengar Yoga and spent six months in India learning it. She was back in the circuit in 1998 with ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’.
The Material Girl hit India with a busy itinerary: slum tour with Gregory ‘Shantaram’ Roberts, ‘misal pav’ in a Mumbai street restaurant and camel rides in Rajasthan. The trip culminated in her decision to adopt an Indian child.