Cartwheels in a Sari
A Memoir of Growing Up Cult
By Jayanti Tamm
(Broadway Books, Paperback, 9780307393937, 304pp.)
Publication Date: December 7, 2010
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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In this colorful, eye-opening memoir, Jayanti Tamm offers an unforgettable glimpse into the hidden world of growing up “cult” in mainstream America. Through Jayanti’s fascinating 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.
When the short, bald man in flowing robes prophesizes Jayanti to be the “Chosen One,” her life is forever entwined with the charismatic guru Sri Chinmoy, who declares himself a living god. A god who performs sit-ups and push-ups in front of thousands as holy ritual, protects himself with a platoon of bodyguards, and bans books, TV, and sex. Jayanti’s unusual and increasingly bizarre childhood is spent shuttling between the ashram in Queens, New York, and her family’s outpost as “Connecticut missionaries.” On the path to enlightenment decreed by Guru, Jayanti scrubs animal cages in his illegal basement zoo, cheerleads as he weight lifts an elephant in her front yard, and trails him around the world as he pursues celebrities such as Princess Diana and Mother Teresa.
But, when her need for enlightenment is derailed by her need for boys, Jayanti risks losing everything that she has ever known, including the person that she was ordained to be. With tenderness, insight, and humor, Jayanti explores the triumphs and trauma of an insider who longs to be an outsider, her hard-won decision to finally break free, and the unique challenges she confronts as she builds a new life.
JAYANTI TAMM is an English professor at Ocean County College in New Jersey. Visit her website, www.jayantitamm.com.
"The story of Tamm's birth--that she pressed her hands together in prayer at barely an hour old--was as festooned with mythology as the spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, who deemed her his 'Chosen One.' Tamm recounts how the title meant little; as a member of the controversial religious group, she was subjected to constant manipulation....Tamm, who left the group at age 24 after having a psychological breakdown, writes with wit, but her hurt is obvious. Yet as she did after performing cartwheels for Chinmoy (who died in '07), the now happily married mother lands on her feet--and her effort is worthy of applause."
—People, four-star review
"Tamm's indictment [of Sri Chinmoy] is more effective for being conveyed, with little rancor, from the point of view of a trusting child who dutifully adored the guru and only haltingly, in young adulthood, became disenchanted."
—New York Times Book Review
“Lyrical and soulful and, at times, utterly laugh-out-loud hilarious, Cartwheels in a Sari is a modern-day Last Emperor. Tamm, the Chosen One, brought me to tears with her innocence and her soul; yet she brought me to even more laughter with the absurdity of a life that she was thrust into and made to believe.”
—Da Chen, author of Colors of the Mountain
“A moving, haunting memoir. While Jayanti’s story may sound at first like a tale of marginality, or eccentricity, it turns out, instead, to be a tale that readers of all stripes will find familiar. The quest for truth, the search for self, the hope for love–all of these are at the heart of this blunt, smart, shimmering book. Jayanti Tamm leaves her readers doing cartwheels, and wanting more.”
—Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She’s Not There and I’m Looking Through You
"[Tamm] recaptures her youthful struggles to understand the center’s secretive, emotionally repressive world, and to negotiate her relationship with the outside world of mainstream America....Written in straightforward, unadorned prose, there are occasionally comic accounts of Tamm’s pre-adolescent sexual awakenings and of her dawning consciousness of the guru’s complex relationships with some of his nubile young disciples....An earnest memoir of an exceptional childhood."
“[A] frank, clear-eyed memoir….Witty, compassionate, and often heartbreaking, Tamm’s story offers crucial insight into a cult’s inner workings and methods of indoctrination. All readers, though, will recognize universal coming-of-age themes as Tamm discards unwanted childhood lessons and begins to shape an independent adult life.”