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Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult [Kindle Edition]

Jayanti Tamm
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.00
Kindle Price: $7.99
You Save: $6.01 (43%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tamm's parents met in the Manhattan apartment of the guru Sri Chinmoy and quickly married each other at his insistence; when they violated his commandment not to have sex with each other, however, he regrouped by declaring that their daughter, Tamm, would become his greatest disciple. The cult leader was a skilled manipulator, and Tamm's descriptions of her internalization of his predation, constantly blaming herself for not feeling worshipful enough, are wrenching. The outward pressures were equally difficult: she was forbidden a college education and sent abroad when she was caught violating the cultwide ban on dating—and the first time she was banished from the group, she begged for readmittance. Tamm, now in her late 30s and a professor at Ocean County College in New Jersey, is unsparing in her account of the psychological damage Sri Chinmoy inflicted on her and her family, from her parent's loveless marriage to her half-brother's gleeful acceptance of the role of the guru's enforcer. She reveals the difficulties in shaking off the guru's influence—under which she had spent literally her entire life before her final expulsion—and though readers might wish to hear more about how she eventually regained her identity, the harrowing details of her story create a sense of emotional devastation that will linger. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In this frank, clear-eyed memoir, Tamm recounts her youth as the chosen disciple of Sri Chinmoy, the wildly charismatic leader of a New York–based spiritual sect that counts celebrities and heads of nations among its millions of followers. “All of my childhood memories involve trying to obey and please guru,” Tamm writes, and with concise, absorbing detail, she describes her early years, spent playing board games such as “Disciple Chutes and Ladders” (“Did not meditate soulfully—Go back ten spaces”); her chaste but forbidden teen encounters with guys, after which the Guru reminds her, “The Supreme is your eternity’s boyfriend”; and a young-adult crisis that leads to a suicide attempt and, ultimately, her break with the cult. Tamm never sensationalizes the facts, and her narrative restraint only intensifies the emotional impact of each incident. 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. --Gillian Engberg

Product Details

  • File Size: 396 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307393925
  • Publisher: Crown (April 14, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001SE75FK
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #482,592 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real page turner July 20, 2009
By Susan
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a student of history of religions and religious cults, I found this memoir to be very interesting indeed. I met Sri Chinmoy myself on several occasions and had many conversations with disciples of his, and Jayanti Tamm's description of him, his personality, and his relationships with his disciples conform completely to what I personally observed. Her honesty is commendable; she makes no apology for the life she lived in Sri Chinmoy's world, and she describes her crisis of faith in stark but touching detail. Tamm's writing is of the highest caliber and I read the book in one extended sitting. This book is a must for anyone interested in personality cults and the power of religious "group think."
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating subject June 1, 2009
Format:Hardcover
A very interesting and insightful look into growing up in a cult. This story really portrays how "wandering souls" can get pulled into a cult group. My eyes were really opened at the authors descriptions of everyday life in a cult. It was amazing to me that the members really did nothing but work for, and try to please their Guru. The Guru was their life and they literally obeyed every order from him without question.
Growing up the author never knew another way of life. The Guru tried to keep all of his members uneducated, but the children were allowed to go to school. It was here that the author wondered why "everyone didn't have a Guru?"
After many years of questioning her commitment to her Guru, the author was able to break away from the group and start a life of her own. Considering how deeply ingrained this way of life was to her, it is amazing that she was able to get out and stay out.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of a life worth living February 9, 2011
Format:Paperback
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.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Courageous, Beautifully Written Memoir May 15, 2009
Format:Hardcover
In _Cartwheels in a Sari_, Jayanti Tamm sensitively describes her birth, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in Sri Chimnoy's inner circle as his lineage holder, chosen at birth. Tamm's book acknowledges from the start that "this memoir isn't the definitive account of Sri Chimnoy; it is my own remembrance," yet her honesty throughout makes this account both highly credible and extremely readable. The book details her own impressions from her earliest memories of "Guru" to her beginning doubts and loss of identity as she struggled to reconcile the contradictions she saw in Sri Chimnoy's personality and manipulations, with her, and her family's, pivotal role in his community.

The book begins before Tamm's birth, when her parents met one evening at a Sri Chimnoy center, married almost immediately on the orders of Chimnoy, and then had two children. As Tamm puts it, "The night, decades earlier, when they surrendered their lives to Guru, they unknowingly surrendered mine as well." The memoir unfolds so that we, as readers, see Sri Chimnoy first through a child's eyes, then from the point of view of an adolescent, and later in early adulthood to the present. Along the way, Tamm outlines her growing doubts and concerns about what she saw and her problem of having no one to confide in. People in the organization would report any sign of doubt or questioning back to Chimnoy, and Tamm had very few contacts with the outside world, hence the title "growing up cult." The problems and contradictions intensify, becoming almost inescapable.

For example, at one point, Tamm as an elementary school student hears Chimnoy ask in a sermon on a bus filled with disciples, "Could you not kill her?" in reference to Alo, one of Chimnoy's members. Tamm questions, "Nothing made sense.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars It depends from your perspective how we see it
If I read all these comments about Sri Chinmoy…. Then I understand that these comments are only the perspective of their writers. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Rudi Zimmerer
5.0 out of 5 stars "Dictateur du Bien !"
"Cartwheels in a sari" is the story of Jayanti Tamm, born in the heart of Sri Chinmoy's movement. Actually, she shouldn't have been born since Chinmoy advocated his married... Read more
Published 6 months ago by GUIGNETTE Jean-Paul
1.0 out of 5 stars Unintended Consequences of Publish or Perish
Jayanti was an instructor at a tiny community college teaching "Creative Writing." Her school decided that, to continue to teach writing and keep her job, she would need... Read more
Published 13 months ago by David Serlin
1.0 out of 5 stars not very interesting
I expected the book to be more interesting. There is not really much of anything in here. Not a book i would recommend.
Published 15 months ago by divlive
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
I was curious about Sri Chinmoy and some of their beliefs as I have a friend who works at one of his restaurants. I wanted a better understanding of who he was. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Karen Rohrbaugh
5.0 out of 5 stars True to life
For me the book was very insightful about the workings within this particular cult. Besides, this book is really a work of literature, amusing and saddening at the same time. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended Read! Insight into a Hidden World.
While in downtown San Francisco a few weeks back, I ate at a vegetarian restaurant that had serene pale blue walls, a minimalist decor, waitresses in saris and pictures of what was... Read more
Published on November 9, 2012 by N. Panc
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind boggling
I found this to be one of the best cult memoirs I have ever read. It made me laugh and cry. A great insight into mind control via sleep deprivation, repetitive doctrine, isolation... Read more
Published on August 30, 2012 by Billie
4.0 out of 5 stars guru yoga...
About 2x per year in New York City you'll see the posters go up for "free meditation." On the posters you'll see a serene looking guy in a white robe playing a flute, A.K.A. Read more
Published on August 19, 2012 by Marcus Conte
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Average Cult Expose
This book perhaps has two purposes, a coming of age story, and a primer on how a psychopathic huckster like Chimoy manipulated and abused people. Read more
Published on May 26, 2012 by Passionate Therapist
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More About the Author

Born and raised as the 'chosen one' in the cult of the guru Sri Chinmoy, Jayanti Tamm spent the first twenty-five years of her life living inside the guru's inner circle. She wrote about her life in the memoir, Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult.

Today, Jayanti is an English professor at Ocean County College. She is married and can be found chasing after her toddler.

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