“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.”
–Anton Chekhov

The Maharishi’s ashram had a heliport, and so naturally there had to be helicopters. One day, says yon Wikipedia,

An aviation company owner and patron of the Maharishi’s, Kershi Cambata (K. S. Khambatta), flew two helicopters to Rishikesh to take the Maharishi and his guests for rides, for the publicity value, even though the flights required the transportation of fuel by truck to Rishikesh.

According to Lewis Lapham, who was actually there, the Maharishi intended “first to see his ashram from the air and then to survey prospective landing strips for the twin-engine Beechcraft that his admirers in Los Angeles were said to be acquiring for his extended ministry to the poor and sick in heart.” You may notice a tinge of cynicism there; Lapham was in Rishikesh as a journalist, not a believer, and viewed the proceedings from a certain distance — though not without a sense of poetry. He continues,

After lunch, when the aviation gas had arrived, the Maharishi and [his right-hand man] Raghvendra walked down the hill in front of a straggling procession of porters, kitchen boys and frightened cows. John Lennon took movies of the crowd of Indians on the beach, [while] the Indians with box cameras took pictures of John Lennon….

In addition to the pilot and the Maharishi, there was room for one passenger on the copter, and Lennon peacefully elbowed aside all other contenders to claim the spot. Later, when asked what had gotten into him, John admitted that he was growing frustrated with the Maharishi’s endless mystical vagueness.

“John thought there was some sort of secret the Maharishi had to give you, and then you could just go home,” Neil Aspinall says. “He started to think the Maharishi was holding out on him. ‘Maybe if I go up with him in the helicopter,’ John said, ‘he may slip me the answer on me own.’ ” [Philip Norman, Shout!]

As it turned out, John didn’t even get to sit next to the great man, the secrets of the universe were not shouted over the noise of the engines, and he spent another month at the ashram without ever getting “the answer.”

Here we begin to get into the question of whether the Maharishi really had any answers, whether he was a true teacher with a few quirks and shortcomings, or a complete charlatan. This is a complex, subjective, and ultimately unresolvable question which we will nonetheless spend some time debating in the weeks to come. But for now I’ll leave you with one last passage from Lewis Lapham, this word painting of the Maharishi’s tete-a-tete with the whirlybird:

The Maharishi gazed lovingly at the helicopter, like a child looking at an enormous, complicated toy. He absently clutched a bouquet of marigolds, which, when the engines started, dissolved in shreds. He hardly noticed. Raghvendra placed his antelope skin on the co-pilot’s seat; John Lennon sat in the passenger’s seat, still filming the Indians standing around on the beach with the sand blowing into their shoes, and as the helicopter lifted slowly into the clear air, the Maharishi bestowed his blessing from higher and higher up, waving benignly with the stalk of a derelict flower.

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