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Still wanna hold their hands

The Beatles came to India, and reigned for years before quietly disappearing with the record players. A steadfast fan replays their songs in her mind, and remembers how the band swept her off her feet

I caught a glimpse of The Beatles before I heard them sing. It was my seafaring brother who gave me a secondhand introduction to them, as it were. He had crossed into his twenties and I was barely eight when he sent home a black 'n' white photo of himself dressed in tight pants and pointed shoes, with his hair cut in a fringed mop. On the reverse he had inscribed: "A beatle or a bug?"

I'd encountered puns before -- there were several of them in my Book of Riddles -- but it was the first I'd heard of the Beatles. My brother wrote that he'd attended a Beatles concert in London. With all the fervour of a new convert he'd donned the attire of his idols: Beatle shoes, and the characteristic hairstyle that had earned the band members the nickname Mop Tops.

When my brother's cargo ship next touched Bombay after its global wanderings, he arrived in Calicut with a wondrous invention that was to ensnare my heart instantly. It was a Gerrard record player, the jukebox kind that could cleverly play a stack of 45s all by itself. New technology brought with it new vocabulary: stylus, r.p.m., mono, stereo, LP, EP, A side, B side, and of course record a.k.a. album.

It was a long time before I got over the excitement of watching the mechanical arm move unerringly to the edge of the record, and, after it had traversed the arc, return home to rest with a click. Naturally, I wasn't allowed to touch the player or the records, and had to crave my father's indulgence.

Among the modest pile of records were With The Beatles (their second LP, recorded in 1963, following their debut album Please Please Me earlier that year), Rubber Soul and Help (both discs cut in 1965). I think I simultaneously fell in love with The Beatles and their music. If their melody was irresistible, so was the Beatle lore that my brother was chockfull of. I quickly committed to memory not only the lyrics of all the songs and the order in which they were recorded, but each Beatle's name, exact age, musical instrument, personal habits, quirks, and witty replies at press conferences. The jacket of With The Beatles carried a detailed review by Tony Barrow, and whenever I listened to the record I would read Barrow's comments, song by song, while I hummed along -- a silent commentary running parallel to the music.

John Lennon provoked in me the first stirrings of pre-pubescent passion. "Hey, you've got to hide your love away", he sang in velvet tones, and my heart swelled to bursting point. His voice thrilled me equally when it was raw and powerful in songs such as Money. Surely, when he sang "You'd better run for your life if you can, little girl", he meant me? "Catch you with another man, that's the end ah, little girl". How could he possibly think that I would seek the arms of another man? John was the only one for me. I calculated that when I turned 18, he would be only 35. I would go to London and propose to him, and of course he would be deeply moved by my unwavering devotion and promptly agree to marry me.

With every visit of my brother came a new set of records that matched his current tastes. I found him shockingly fickle, and I remained faithful to The Beatles. Since The Rolling Stones were rivals of my beloved band -- their untamed rebellion in sharp contrast with the non-threatening Mop Tops -- I could only listen to them with grudging admiration. The Animals were unique, they were ahead of their time, but they could not unseat Numero Uno.

The Gerrard was sold off and a National turntable made its august appearance along with a set of twin speakers. By the Seventies I'd turned into a music fiend and a hardcore radio listener. My list of favourite bands had lengthened considerably, and rock had entered my soul. Nevertheless, I hadn't got over my deep dismay at the break-up of The Beatles, shortly after their Let It Be album. How could the enchanting Lennon-Macartney partnership turn so irreparably sour? My heroes had let me down, but I would follow their separate careers with unabated interest.

My sailor brother dropped anchor and stopped expanding the family record collection. It was my other brother's turn to do so; my turn would come, too, when I started earning a living. And The Beatles figured prominently on our shopping list. Thus it was that we acquired Revolver, Abbey Road, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The White Album, more than a decade after they were recorded. Let It Be was not bought but was donated -- to my brother by a hostelmate, a disappointed fan.

Melody and harmony are perhaps the surest way to a child's heart, and childhood loyalties are seldom erased. I was sad to see drummer Ringo Starr (who had reverted to his given name, Richard Starkey) fade out after a couple of singles -- only Photograph sticks in my memory. George Harrison too didn't last long, and when his My sweet Lord was sued by Dahlia Lavy for its strong resemblance to her He's so fine, I felt as embarrassed as if I'd been the guilty party. Paul forged ahead with The Wings, and I bought their Band On The Run for old times' sake. As for John, I took a lover's pride in the growth of his career. Unlike Paul's, his music veered far, far from the happy sounds of the Sixties, and he became more my hero than ever with his album Imagine. For many years, a black 'n' white poster of him looked out of a wall in my house. It said, simply: 1940-1980.

Today I listen to cassettes and CDs. The old National packed up long ago, my portable Philips is out of action, and I'm left with a huge stack of records begging to be played. Nobody manufactures record players any more. It frustrates me no end, although I know I can mentally replay my albums any time I want.

All I have to do is sit in a quiet corner and, in my mind's eye, take With The Beatles out of its jacket. On goes the switch, record on turntable, brief crackle of stylus on vinyl, and All my loving comes galloping out: "Close your eyes and I'll kiss you, tomorrow I'll miss you, remember I'll always be true..."

C K Meena

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