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Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult

por Jayanti Tamm

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14811184,409 (3.67)3
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.… (más)
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Note: A copy of this book was provided to this reviewer for free through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars, although I’m giving “Cartwheels in a Sari” the benefit of the doubt and giving it 4 stars since we can’t give half stars on Goodreads.

As an outsider and understanding some of the background of various cults and their mind-controlling methods, the first thing I felt while reading this book was immense frustration, which may be where many readers could stumble in reading this and could be its biggest weakness. How do the people involved not see how they’re being manipulated? How can Jayanti Tamm (the author of this memoir) not understand the control being exerted by the obvious charlatan Sri Chinmoy?

This is where “Cartwheels in a Sari” also has its greatest strength. The book is bluntly honest as it is mostly told through the perspective of a child who literally knew nothing else, being born and raised in this cult and indoctrinated from birth. I had to remind myself that this was the perspective and knowledge of the writer at the time these events occurred in her life, and that she did not have the benefit of outside influence until much later. This will likely be the biggest area of frustration for most readers, but it’s also the most honest part of it, and the author seems to have taken great pains to regress her own perspective to the one she had as a child witnessing these events with very little hindsight added. At the same time, some more commentary of the events from her adult self using would likely have been appreciated, and the reader will need to wait until the end of the book to get more of this hindsight. I understand the author’s reasoning in wanting to ensure the reader stays enmeshed in her perspective as the events of her life without the benefit of hindsight, but it still adds to the frustration.

An insider perspective on cult life that is wholly unique, this book provides the reader with an interesting view on how cults control their members and how some ultimately break free, including the author. Even in moments of great despair, the author provides hope that even one born into and knowing nothing outside of a cult can create an independent life after breaking free. While not a spectacular book, it is solid enough to recommend and an interesting sociological case study on cults with a convenient reader’s guide with questions provided at the end for those who wish to use the book as a teaching tool. ( )
  sheldonnylander | Apr 5, 2023 |

A strange tale of a girl born the "Chosen One" in a cult. Strangely, I found it light reading missing the depths of madness and brainwashing that I expected.

I didn't find the "guru", the cult leader named Sri Chinmoy, all that sinister or crazy. He just loved attention. Perhaps, the bar for insanity has raised in modern times (Michael Jackson any one?).

Unless you have some prior (and preferably negative) knowledge of Sri Chinmoy, it just doesn't hit the heart. ( )
  wellington299 | Feb 19, 2022 |
Having left the cult she was born into while in her mid twenties, Jayanti Tamm is remarkable for:

1. Successfully building a life when she was never taught the most basic skills needed to function in society.

2. Staying on a forward course; being open and joyful to what life brings her, instead of stewing in bitterness against her former cult.

3. Writing a great memoir that gives all of us a window into the weirdness of Sri Chinmoy. ( )
  kivarson | Jun 8, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vota 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 |
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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.

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