Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult
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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.
From the Hardcover edition.
and kind to Alo, and not to worry about the rest. I suspected she was lying. It couldn't be that simple. And it wasn't. I soon discovered that there were two distinct groups in the Center—those who knew that Alo was not God-realized, and those who didn't. The people in the know about Alo were mostly Guru's close disciples in the New York area. Few of the visiting disciples from around the country, and even fewer from the increasing number of meditation groups in Europe, knew Alo was a fraud. I
Hamsa had known about my future than I had. Having toiled her way up through the ranks of the UN, Hamsa now worked as a professional in human resources, which made her even more useful to Guru as he instructed flocks of disciples to become full-time UN employees. “So how fast do you type? How fluent are you in dictation?” Hamsa asked, fixing the plastic comb straining to hold back her frizzy gray hair from overtaking her face. When I explained that I couldn't do either, without dropping her
errors. All bets were off. I had lost. Guru was sympathetic when I reported back my results, and he cheered me on to practice and try again. Weeks later, after I failed my second test with even worse results, Guru consulted Hamsa about a backup plan. In addition to the various UN departments located around the Secretariat Building, each member country of the UN had its own base of operations nearby. The United States Mission to the United Nations, directly across the street from the Secretariat
separation would be as final and permanent as I had experienced with Oscar on the train platform. But Chahna, like Oscar, was thousands of miles away. Enough time had passed, and it was clearer to me than ever that my pining to return to New York was not just because of my yearning for Guru's peace, love, and bliss; I could no longer deny that it was really because I missed Oscar. I imagined meandering through Montpellier with him, arm in arm, using up entire days in one small neighborhood. He
different. Instead of rushing to defend Guru, I had been silent, and instead of refuting the stranger's blasphemous claims, I had absorbed them. THAT EVENING, AS Lalita drove me to yet another strategy session for concert publicity, she was particularly buoyant, eager to share the exciting news that one Paris disciple's elderly relative had died, and the disciple had donated her entire inheritance to cover concert expenses. Giving Guru money to be utilized as divine kindling to help spread his