When two lost souls are joined together in marriage by the charismatic leader they each found in an ashram in Queens, the strangers begin a journey toward spiritual salvation marred early on by a slip-up. Sri Chinmoy has banned his disciples from having sex, but rather than instruct this couple to “do the abortion” as he had for so many other couples, he anoints their child as special. At first it may seem pretty cool to be told you are the Chosen One, but Jayanti Tamm’s life is far from perfect. In this haunting memoir of her striving to become God-Realized and then her struggle to escape the cult that raised her, Tamm narrates her own story in a touching manner that humanizes both sides and stops short of either self-pity or moral superiority.
Most people have heard of Sri Chinmoy. He claims to have lifted an elephant, to have been the spiritual guide of the United Nations, to have been close friends with Mikhail Gorbachev and Princess Diana, and so on. But most people have not heard of Jayanti Tamm, who was loyally by Chinmoy’s side, born to be nothing more than his devotee and ever in his service, until her slow fall from grace and eventual excommunication at the age of 25. Tamm’s perspective on the Chinmoy cult is therefore delightfully specific. She dwells on the tiniest details of a head nod or a special light blue color, finely attuned to the major significance of the smallest signs of a favored status within the cult. She excitedly tells of her childhood quest to gain Guru’s permission to have a pet bunny, and speaks with gravity about avoiding the ominous bust of his head on the family shrine that she thought was out to get her. Sent to a swanky private academy for girls to keep “lower vital temptations” at bay, Tamm discusses her teenage frustration and shame at being an outsider, and her longing to blend in with a more normal life.
Tamm travelled the whole world with Guru, but only really saw the inside of hotel conference rooms. As the bustling and colorful life of New York City trickles into her growing consciousness, she thoughtfully traces her declining status in the cult, from the first few natural transgressions, to a tentative rebellion, to a fierce rejection of the only social system she’d ever known. Never having defined herself except in relation to Guru, Tamm’s story is ultimately a meditation on the importance of being able to think for one’s self. The author succeeds in treating Sri Chinmoy with all the respect that is due to such a formative mentor, but she does not shy away from condemning the selfish audacities that ultimately caused him to break her heart, bringing her to the edge of a terrifying personal abyss. Ironically, after failing for two and half decades to understand Sri Chinmoy’s imperative to be “most soulful”, Jayanti Tamm tells her unique life story with an unflinching poise and the honest peace of a soul who has indeed experienced both the pain and the height of spiritual awakening. Megan Volpert
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.
Jayantis 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.
This is a gripping story that you will want to listen to in one sitting! Funny, moving, and inspirational, Cartwheels in a Sari is a terrific book that will leave you thinking about it long after it is over.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful
Jayanti Tamm has written a moving story of her first 25 years of life as "the chosen one". What I enjoyed most was the description of day to day growing up straddling the life of her upbringing and the outside world. What I didn't like was Jayanti's pronunciation of the word "guru" which she uses hundreds of times in the book. It sounds like "Grr-er" or just a throaty growl. The other thing I didn't like was that I had a lot of questions that the book didn't answer (or maybe it did and I have to re-listen). For example, there is the story of how Jayanti wanted a pet but Guru didn't allow pets. Later in the book, she relates a story of her brother walking Guru's dog.
Despite my complaints, I do think it is a worthwhile story and a very interesting listen.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful