News & Reviews

Across the Universe at DI Author:Debargho Sarkar   Posted On:2018-03-14


The Beatles. Who hasn’t heard them? Their tunes, lyrics, styles…the boys from Liverpool were an international phenomenon ever since the mid Sixties, when they churned out hit after hit, topping the charts and causing a frenzy with their records and albums. Their songs are still as popular as they were over 50 years ago, crossing borders and age groups, and will continue to be because of their variety and social relevance, let alone their catchy melodies.

The Dalhousie Institute was fortunate on Monday March 12, 2018, to be the venue of the launch of a book on the group’s visit to India in 1968. Written by senior political columnist and television commentator Ajoy Bose, ‘Across the Universe – The Beatles in India’ is published by Penguin India, and offers an insight into The Beatles' stay at Rishikesh. The event was presented by the Oxford Bookstore, Penguin India and the Dalhousie Institute.

The launch was followed by a short introduction by the author and a chat with well-known singer Usha Uthup and former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar. Among the audience were journalists, music aficionados and club members and their guests who had come together to witness an interesting interaction between the trio. This was followed by a set of popular Beatles songs sung by Usha-di, as she is popularly referred to in the City of Joy.

Usha-di started the event by reminiscing on how, as a young girl singing western songs in Chennai, she had picked up popular Beatles tunes even before she became a professional singer. “The beauty of these songs by the Fab Four was, and always will remain, in their simplicity of construction,” she pointed out. The former civil servant – Jawhar Sircar was Secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Government of India – threw some interesting questions to the author, including the influence of Indian music, instruments and religion on The Beatles and their work.

Mr. Sircar, who spent his teenage years in the 60’s, discussed the cultural impact of the Beatles upon fashion, musical direction and perhaps most importantly – lifestyle. After all, the Fab-Four were responsible for making the Indian ‘kurta-Pajama’ popular in the west, he humorously pointed out.

The conversation soon veered towards the time spent (or mis-spent as some fans of the Beatles would gladly point out) by the band and their ever-present retinue at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, located within the Rajaji national park by the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh, Uttrakhand, in search of Nirvana through what the Maharishi preached as transcendental meditation and the supposed Mia Farrow scandal that still remains as a popular point of reference by the fans.

Bose on his part explained how he was surprised to be approached by Penguin for the project, knowing his background, and how he took up the challenge of foraying into music, that too of a kind that will never be replicated. The audience too participated by asking questions to the trio, especially the author. 

The discussions gave way to musci as Usha di matched her voice to the songs of the famous group. Her renditions were well received, and she had the audience singing along to such tunes as ‘Can’t buy me love’, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, ‘Come Together’, and the ever popular John Lennon tune, ‘Imagine’ which still, after all these years, remains socially relevant.