hi. i wrote an essay about family, last summer, & The Beatles. It’s called “Put It There” & it’s been published in issue-9 of the fantastic The Teatles Book. you can get yourself a copy through @Teatlemania on twitter.
hope u like this. cheers.
p.s. the title is inspired by the song “put it there” by paul mccartney. it’s lovely, & it pairs really well with this essay. you might want to check it out. have fun!
I was in a restaurant with my parents when I learned that my university was indefinitely sending us all back home due to the pandemic. It was the middle of March. I was home for the weekend. I read the email out to my parents over plates of spaghetti & chilled beer; & they were ecstatic. My mother ordered another plate of rice, & my father started calculating how many games of chess we could fit alongside my daily classes.
March through June, I spent my days lolling about at home. Classes came to an end at the beginning of May. My hours were now filled with mangoes, ice-cream sundaes, cooking pizzas at home, & playing Ludo every evening (my mother had grown tired of watching me & my father play chess). I watched too many period dramas & didn’t listen to a single song.
In July, I took a class called “Trauma and Event”. For one of our lectures, we were assigned Hideo Furukawa’s book Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure. In the beginning passage of his book, Furukawa writes, “What if there were this extraterrestrial, and they are in their UFO, and you could pick just one Beatles song for them to listen to, what would you pick? Younger brother answers immediately: “Strawberry Fields Forever”; the answer suggests no other possibility”. Strawberry Fields Forever — that was the first song I listened to in three months. I liked it.
I liked it enough that I decided that the most optimum use of my time would be to listen to the Beatles’ entire catalogue. & so, I spent the summer of 2020 writing poems about loss, re-reading Harry Potter, & sobbing to The Long and Winding Road. The speaker in my room would emit sounds of John & Paul harmonising all day long. My father loved my new-found obsession. He would repeatedly tell me stories of how when he was a kid, he & his cousins used to listen to classic rock, despite not understanding half the words. It was the cool thing to do.
It’s easier now than it was then to imagine him as a teenager, gorging upon crime thrillers & his father’s collection of cassettes. When my grandfather died, my father & I divided all of his stuff amongst ourselves. I kept his iPod, he kept the pictures. My father could always read the stories written in the objects we choose to surround ourselves with. The first time I heard McCartney sing Junk, I was standing again besides my father emptying his drawers every eleventh Sunday, & still struggling to decide what to throw out. I opened his cupboard the other day & found two broken phones & faded pictures of my mum.
He turned 53 last November. My mother fried potato bonda for breakfast & I burned my upper lip on my first bite. That month, I was working on a terrible short story titled The Walrus, whose main plot was an anxiety attack in an aeroplane & whose sub-plot was a sufficient sprinkling of Beatle references. I’ve never been very good at writing stories about others; therefore, I decided to create a character who was stuck, feeling anxious all the time, & constantly humming A Day in the Life. For the past month, I had been constantly feeling on-edge. I attributed my nerves to turning 20 next January; pinned beneath time, running head-first, & getting nowhere. On his birthday, we watched a film, ate cheesecake & drove back home.
It had not rained for a few days. The chill was seeping into the walls, & we were doubling up our blankets at night. Every morning, I would wake up & curl into my hoodies. My parents had just gifted me a new sweatshirt with Robin Scherbatsky’s face. I can’t remember the occasion. It does not matter. It never mattered. I grew up within a home where it was never uncommon for me to wake up to baked cookies or presents hidden in dusty nooks. I have been loved. I knew every night going to sleep that if I did not wake up, it would not be okay — because I’m loved.
It was the first Sunday of December & I was gearing up to submit my class assignments. We had a delicious breakfast at home & my father flipped the channel to Aap ki Adalat. Muting the TV, he took my right hand in his palm & traced the calluses on my fingertips: “They still haven’t healed?” — “No, I keep typing & forget to bandage it”. He talked of Switzerland. & Italy. & New York & Vietnam & France & every place he had never seen but longed to. We made plans that morning of flying to Europe in the summer of 2023. He grinned at me, & turned up the volume.
That night, I went to sleep envying Derek Shepherd his perfect hair. Next morning, I woke up. He didn’t.
The first time I heard McCartney sing, it was 4:00 a.m. on a cool August night. It was the first week of my college & a group of us were sitting around a tiny speaker playing our favourite songs. I played A. R. Rahman’s Luka Chuppi. Someone else played Hey Jude. I sang along. Of course, I sang along. It’s surreal to remember that I knew the lyrics to that song, for I can’t remember ever having heard it before. There’s a picture on my Instagram of my parents & my mamu on a beach in Goa from October of 2019. The caption reads, “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid” but before that August night, I cannot remember ever having heard the song. It’s terrifying to look at my skin in the mirror and see faded outlines of leaves & scratches from trees when I have never been to a forest since I was four. It’s terrifying to think of all the conversations I don’t remember having & all the carnival posters I don’t remember seeing & waking up on a Wednesday to find one clinging to the back of my knee.
When morning dawned on that cool August night, it did not matter that I could not remember listening to Hey Jude. We were drunk on the music & the conversations & the yawning blue sky. I heard “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid” — & I did not look back.
In If You Knew, poet Ellen Bass poses a question: “What if you knew you’d be the last / to touch someone?” I measure that December Sunday in his touches. His fingertips caressing mine, our hands stumbling into each other over a bowl of carrot halwa, our elbows knocking together as we sang & danced circles around my mum. Me touching his black & white Sherlock Holmes cufflinks as he dressed up to meet a friend. Him hugging me as we crossed paths in the kitchen at 12 a.m. Some mornings, I expect to wake up & find violets blooming everywhere his skin has touched mine. If I knew I would be the last person to touch him, I would have hugged him longer. If I knew this was the last time I was touching him, I would not have stopped.
The only Beatles album I was familiar with before last summer was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — & by familiarity I mean knowing its name. My favourite song has always been She’s Leaving Home. I could empathise. I yearned to run head-first & get nowhere; I never ran far enough in my mind to realise that I always ended back home. Yesterday, I was rummaging through my cupboards when I came across my father’s stamp collection. I spent the afternoon flipping through its yellowed pages.
In the streets of Switzerland in 2023, I feel the snow whisper across my socks. I hold my hand out. An old stamp falls into my palm.