Newly decanted into a drug-free zone and with nothing other than TM to occupy their minds, The Beatles soon set about writing new material. And with the only Western instrument to hand being an acoustic guitar, the White Album’s sound was born of necessity. Donovan taught John to fingerpick and, utilising the technique, Lennon wrote Dear Prudence (an exhortation to the shy, young Farrow to join in with the transcendental fun) and Julia (ostensibly about his late mother, though also about Yoko, the ‘Oceanchild’ in the lyric; Yoko literally means ‘child of the sea’ in Japanese). In all, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison wrote 17 of the songs that would appear on the White Album while in India. And, for the very first time, even Ringo wrote one. He was that bored.
But John was still locked inside his own private hell. Trapped in a loveless marriage, obsessed with thoughts of Yoko and unable to sleep (an insomnia diarised in the White Album’s I’m So Tired), he wrote Yer Blues. Reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac and the other blues boomers, the song was indicative of the fact that Lennon was far from happy. “When I wrote ‘I’m so lonely, I want to die’,” he admitted, “I’m not kidding. That’s how I felt, up there, trying to reach God and feeling suicidal.”
Having travelled to India in search of direction and wise counsel from a parental figure, Lennon found only disillusionment. He left Rishikesh in a huff, accusing the Maharishi (falsely, as it turned out) of making a pass at Mia Farrow, an incident chronicled in the accusatory Sexy Sadie. “I was rough on him,” he said. “I always expect too much. I’m always expecting my mother and I don’t get her. That’s what it is.”
Within a month John and Cynthia’s marriage had ended and he was in a relationship with Yoko.
From the dawn of their celebrity, all four Beatles were individually famous. The public was soon able to differentiate which Lennon/McCartney compositions were Paul songs and which were John songs. George’s songs reflected another persona entirely, while Ringo was invariably gifted with the toxic chalice of Paul’s latest novelty song. In the absence of Epstein, and with disharmony in the ranks, the band split further apart into their constituent parts. Rather than drawing the band closer, India had only served to accentuate their differences.
In Rishikesh, away from the skewed reality of London, only George had found enlightenment (along with six songs). Ringo complained about the food and left early, followed by Paul who, between bouts of meditation had knuckled down to write a dozen or so songs. John’s experience may not have been terribly spiritual, but it was certainly profound. Off the acid and stunned into misery by the pin-sharp tedium of real life, he came to terms with the fact that his marriage was over and that he was falling in love with Yoko. During his stay, Lennon wrote 15 of what he later claimed to be some of his “best” and “most miserable” songs.