Across the Universe: The Beatles in India by Ajoy Bose- Review

Title: Across the Universe: The Beatles in India

Author: Ajoy Bose

Publisher: Penguin Viking

Pages: 320

Price: Rs 699

The first thing that catches your attention in Across the Universe: The Beatles in India, written by Ajoy Bose is the bright cover with illustrations of the four members of the Beatles sharing cover space along with sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, Maharishi and all the others that were relevant to the Beatles story in India. However, the back cover art is a real classic that is inspired by Abbey Road and it shows the four band members on Lakshman Jhula. While there is hardly anyone that didn’t know of the long affair that the Beatles had with India, it was about time that an Indian should write about the Beatles episode in India. And, so it came from a veteran journalist, Ajoy Bose. He has authored two books before, one on the Emergency and the other on Mayawati, both extremely political in nature. Thus, it was quite a surprise to see Bose writing on the Beatles.

Nevertheless, as the chapters unfold the Beatles story, one cannot deny the author’s pure admiration and adulation for the subject of his book. Also, one must understand that writing anything on the Beatles can be an arduous task as there has been so many books on them, thus bringing new stories on the surface might have been challenging. But the author has done a commendable job on both accounts, as the book is well- researched and has interviews that bring in fresh aspects especially, focussing on the personalities of the four members.  The book has anecdotes that provide a clear picture of how big the Beatles were in India and the major impact it had on upcoming rock bands, singers and songwriters in India because of their Rishikesh visit. Bose’s easy narrative style is sometimes laced with humour. For instance, the book says, “…Yet, despite the adulation and enthusiasm of the growing band of Beatles fans in India, their trip to Rishikesh was not without its controversies. There were many people in the country who were openly hostile to both the Maharishi and the arrival of the rock band and other celebrities from the West in his ashram. In the Lok Sabha, the opposition went up in arms alleging that the yogi was in cahoots with the CIA and that many of his guests from abroad were actually foreign spies.”

The book covers the relationship of the Beatles with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the Rishikesh ashram and their eventual fallout with him in great detail. It talks at length of their experience with Transcendental Meditation in India and how they were instrumental in placing Indian music and spirituality on a global arena, with George Harrison remaining a lifelong devotee of Indian music and spirituality.

A very interesting observation by Bose makes one to even wonder if the Beatles started to have trouble with each other right after their ashram stint. Of course, there was already tension brewing between the band members because of Yoko Ono’s entry in John Lennon’s life, but apart from that, as the author points out, “…Less than a year after they returned from Rishikesh, it was all over but the shouting for the Beatles… in some strange and unfathomable way, their time at Rishikesh appeared to have snapped these personal bonds… Paradoxically enough, in the last throes of their existence coinciding with the closing rites of the momentous decade of the 1960s, the Beatles were individually at the height of their creative powers.”

Whatever might have been the reasons for the Beatles to break up, but this book definitely takes the reader on a nostalgic journey into the heydays of Beatles mania, and after reading this book by Bose, one might even decide to visit the Beatles Ashram in Rishiskesh.

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