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Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up…
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Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult

by Jayanti Tamm

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When I lived in San Diego, the Sri Chinmoy vegetarian restaurant was a block from my house. My roommates and I ate there all the time - that food was seriously delicious. We had one rule: no conversation about the decor, Sri Chinmoy, or any of the photos displayed in the eating area. The servers seemed to be listening at all times, and any remark at any volume, whether it be curiosity or skepticism, prompted a flood of pamphlets, photographic evidence to back up the Guru's rather improbable feats of strength, leaflets about upcoming events, and invitations to attend any of their numerous free meetings. We tried to focus on the food.

It wasn't easy. TV sets in every corner showed the Guru meeting very famous people, giving speeches, or playing various instruments. The restaurant's stereo played nothing but Sri Chinmoy original compositions. Sri Chinmoy drawings shared wall space with photos of the aging Guru lifting giant weights or large animals or vehicles of various sizes. Adding to the surreal atmosphere were the servers themselves, wearing homemade cotton pjs and matching expressions of dazed weariness. They didn't look like radiantly happy followers of a fitness and health food guru. They looked like they subsisted on valium and sawdust. Sometimes I'd see one or two standing at the back door smoking cigarettes with fixed, grim stares. All this changed on brunch or event days, when the people who ran the place came out, all bright smiles, to charm the diners. But the waitstaff didn't leave us with the impression that joining up with Chinmoy was going to fill us with either enlightenment or bliss. (But the neatloaf!! So good!)

Cartwheels in a Sari explains a lot of what mystified us about the whole Sri Chinmoy thing - the tired disciples, the crazy claims, the crappy music. You would be hard pressed to find a more deeply insider account than Tamm's: as the Guru's 'Chosen One', she had a unique view on the workings of the cult. Yeah. I'm going to say 'cult'. I wished there had been a little more detail about how she managed to unbrainwash herself - the ending is a little abrupt - but, on the other hand, that wasn't the point of the book. And I was glad to have so many questions answered honestly, with no need to fend off any more pamphlets. ( )
  paperloverevolution | Mar 30, 2013 |
When Jayanti Tamm was born she was the Chosen One. She was brought up in Connecticut and New York City surrounded by adults, including her parents, who believed she had descended from the highest heaven to be a devoted and model disciple of their divine Guru, Sri Chinmoy. Like Peter to Jesus, her destiny was to serve her master selflessly, tirelessly and unconditionally.

Unlike Peter, this was not a role she chose. Until she created a stir by showing up in a blue sari for her first day of kindergarten she had no inkling that there was any other way of living. Born into the insulated religion or “cult” chosen by her parents, this memoir of how she gradually found her way out left me breathless. Though the particulars of Jayanti Tamm’s story are unusual it is made universal by her strong desire to do the right thing, her struggle to discover who she is and what she believes, and her unquenchable longing for love and companionship.

Because Jayanti Tamm was raised as Sri Chimnoy’s Chosen One, and because her parents were part of his inner circle, her memoir also chronicles the very human side of a man who is considered divine by his followers. It’s a portrait of ego, ambition and hubris, of both engaging sweetness and casual cruelty—Chimnoy told Jayanti’s mother to have an abortion when it didn’t suit him to have her pregnant again. Celebrities were courted and fawned over; followers were encouraged to break the law if following the law meant displeasing their Guru; monuments and accolades celebrating Sri Chimnoy’s perceived greatness were doggedly pursued, including the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jayanti Tamm’s story is a cautionary tale of how tricky it is to accept anything on faith. For most people the world view of Jayanti’s parents will seem convoluted and distorted, but their beliefs followed logically and were internally consistent based on their faith, which accepted as a first principle that Sri Chimnoy was an incarnation of God. Jayanti’s parents eventually separated themselves from the cult of Sri Chimnoy, helped along by its ostracism of their daughter, but it was still a long, difficult process. This is not just a problem for members of fringe religions. The histories of science, economics, politics and the main stream religions are full of examples that prove it’s easier to rationalize away what seem like minor discrepancies than to overturn an ingrained belief. More than anything I’ve read Cartwheels in a Sari has started me on a deeper examination my own unquestioned convictions. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Feb 9, 2011 |
Cartwheels in a Sari by Jayanti Tamm is a very well written, interesting memoir about growing up as part of a cult. When her parents break their guru’s rule about sex and her mother ends up pregnant, their guru tells them he has arranged for a special soul to be sent to them, a soul that will be his perfect disciple on earth. Tamm was told from infancy that she was this special soul. The story follows her into her 20s, when she finally breaks with her guru.

The thing I liked most about Cartwheels in a Sari was the honesty with which Tamm writes. In some memoirs, the author’s bias or agenda seeps heavily into the narrative. With this book, however, Tamm tells her story moment by moment as she felt about each event as it happened. The result is that in addition to being a good story, the book helps you understand the mentality of such a cult and why someone would feel the need to be a part of it. ( )
  erelsi183 | Jul 26, 2010 |
Excellent story of Jayanti's experience of being born into the Sri Chinmoy cult and how she saw the brianwashing and inability to leave....really really interesting and well written!! ( )
1 vote coolmama | Dec 23, 2009 |
My mom and dad joined a cult, and all I got was this lousy Guru. Tamm's early life as the exemplary discipline of Sri Chinmoy was fascinating in its contradictions. She traveled the world yet knew little of people outside the circle of the devoted. Her childhood was full of sweetness and selfishness, submission and willfulness, curiosity and blind faith, desire and despair, human and divine. This is a marvelous coming of age tale about defining one's identity and charting a future under the comforting, sometimes stifling, guidance of a charismatic leader. It celebrates the luminous humanity of both teacher and student and the rich complexity of life. ( )
  rldougherty | Sep 18, 2009 |
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"In this memoir, Jayanti Tamm offers a glimpse into the hidden world of growing up "cult" in mainstream America. Through Jayanti's story the - first book to chronicle Sri Chinmoy - she unmasks a leader who convinces thousands of disciples to follow him, scores of nations to dedicate monuments to him, and throngs of celebrities (Sting, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela) to extol him."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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