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Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult
is available wherever books are sold.


Five new books from New Jersey authors 2/28/2010 by New Jersey Star-Ledger Staff
Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult featured in New Jersey Star-Ledger Arts section.
[Click here to read the full story]


Rosalind Reisner Interview 8/7/2009 Review by Rosalind Reisner
"A wonderful, unusual and very absorbing coming-of-age memoir."
–Rosalind Reisner, author of Read On...Life Stories: Reading Lists for Every Taste
[Click here to read the full interview]


The London Free Press Review 7/27/2009 Review by Yvonne Crittenden
"Guru all powerful to author born in cult"

Jayanti Tamm is an American woman who grew up in a cult from birth -- indeed when her hippie parents bore her, the guru designated her "Chosen One," and she regularly sat in the place of honour at his feet. He was a charismatic, ambitious Bengali called Sri Chinmoy, who became guru to thousands of international disciples and included celebrities like Sting, Nelson Mandela and even Pope John Paul II as admirers. [Click here to read the rest of this review]

Beachcomber Review 7/25/2009 Review by Karen and Norman Bosley
Cartwheels in a Sari: Cult’s ‘Sacrificial Being’

What would you want to say about your childhood and upbringing after you emerged from its securities, insecurities and peculiarities into adulthood? Personal narratives may begin before birth, include the tumult of each person’s appearance and tell of family experiences that shaped the individual. If the story is one the narrator sees as unique, the challenge is both to speak honestly and to relate the extraordinary in a way others can share.

That is the task which Jayanti Tamm, an English professor at Ocean County College, has undertaken in her vivid memoir Cartwheels in a Sari, and the jacket cover of this handsome book gives a thematic preview with the words: “A Memoir of Growing Up Cult.”

Readers who are unfamiliar with Sri Chinmoy surely will want to Google his name before reading the book, for his life, career and cult heritage are central to the unfolding narrative.

While “How I Met Your Mother” is a familiar subject in any family story, that event starts this extraordinary me-moir, with the cult guru directing each of Tamm’s parents to consider the other as part of life’s higher calling. The hand of the guru becomes and remains a paramount influence in Tamm’s upbringing.

Though asceticism is advocated as a life style for cult members, Tamm’s expected birth brings forth her anticipated role in the cult: a miracle child “descended from the highest heavens to be an exemplary disciple…a devoted, sacrificial being, selfless and tireless, pleasing the master unconditionally.”
Tamm’s unusual name, “Jayanti,” was chosen by the guru and means “the absolute victory of the highest Supreme.” While every child discovers parental expectations necessarily shape them, the views of the cult leader trump parental ones, at least in Tamm’s early years. Feeling adored and special is not that unusual for children, but the role the guru delineates for Tamm sets into motion both opportunities and responsibilities that make her story singular.

How can a person be-come an independent, thinking adult when the person’s society, religious rituals and ed-ucation are prescribed by a cult leader who sees himself as the means for the perfection of that person and everyone else? The author traces the delights and traumas of her early years as well as a gathering sense that her own soul requires something more, something not in the array of gratifications the cult prescribes.

In a state of despair, Tamm left the cult in her early 20s and contemplated suicide as the full impact of the severing of her rela-tionship with everything and everyone she had ever known struck her. She managed to pull her life together and graduate from college, an accomplishment the guru did not want her to earn even though she had told him she could help spread the word of the cult if she became a journalist. He responded that college was for the mind, and his work was of the heart.

After Tamm left the cult, she married and gave birth to a daughter, the latter occurring on the same day Sri Chinmoy died.

Tamm’s parents, half-brother and aunt were all members of the cult at one time, and she was the first to leave it. Although her mother and father left eventually, her half brother and aunt still are cult members and have severed all connection to her and her parents.

Tamm writes color-fully and with atten-tion to detail. Cult discipline reflected the idiosyncrasies of the guru: “According to Guru, none of his disciples could die without having Guru’s express permission. As long as someone remained a disciple, they were safe from a sudden death…. He made it clear that the past was dust, and the future was not our concern; all attention must be fixated on the present. Therefore disciples who fretted about notions of health insurance, life insurance or wills clearly were not full believers in Guru’s protective powers…. Those who became gravely ill or died obviously had not been good disciples, and as their lives withered and vanished, they were quickly forgotten."

In other episodes, such as Guru’s peace meditations at the United Nations or his dining with Muhammad Ali or hosting Mayor Ed Koch, all of which elevated public awareness of his mission to promote harmony, she weaves together, in linear fashion, multiple narratives that draw the reader into the cult life she experienced. In incidents and examples, she chronicles her wind-ing path out of the cult, and when she sometimes deviates from a story she is recalling, she manages always to get back to the original personal storyline.

In her final chapter, Tamm uses her experiences of wearing saris and turning cartwheels in her cult life to add perspective to her chro-nicles and her choice of book title. “I knew what I wanted. And it was not contained inside the gym at guru’s circus…. I was through tumbling for him, done cartwheeling, dwelling upside down.” It is safe to say Tamm’s life is finally right side up.
(Karen and Norman Bosley are retired Ocean County College humanities professors. They have lived on Long Beach Island since 1967.)


WHYY Radio Times Interview 7/22/2009
Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane
" amazing memoir" - Chris Satullo, "Radio Times" WHYY Philadelphia's Public Radio Station
[Click here to listen to the full interview]

Midwest Book Review 7/14/2009
Five out of Five Star Review
The hidden world of growing up in a cult in mainstream America is revealed with sensitivity and engrossing detail in Cartwheels in a Sari, a memoir suitable for any spirituality or general lending library. This also represents the first insider's account of Sri Chinmoy, a leader who has convinced thousands to follow him and nations to dedicate monuments to him. Chapters chronicle his life and times in engrossing detail.


The Hour Interview 7/14/2009 Interview by Nanette Morges
Growing up cult in Connecticut

Before she was even born in 1970 at Norwalk Hospital, Jayanti Tamm was declared the chosen disciple of Sri Chinmoy, an Indian guru living in Queens, N.Y., who proclaimed he was the last avatar.

For 25 years, Tamm served as Chinmoy's "Chosen One," until after years of trying to leave, she was banned from the cult.

Now she shares her experience in "Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult" (Harmony Books, $22.99). Tamm will also give a talk Thursday, July 16 at 7 p.m. at Darien Library.

"The book was a long time in coming," said Tamm, adding that it was during therapy that she had a realization. "The only way I could really move ahead was to go back."

Tamm said writing the book was a "great way to process everything."
[Click here to read the rest of this interview]


Psychjourney Interview 6/26/2009 Interview by Deborah Harper
Click HERE to listen to the audio interview


Book-Club-Queen Review 6/22/2009 Review by Queenie C
"It was follow the leader, and didn't everyone follow some sort of leader around in circles?"

Jayanti was born into a cult. She was considered to be "the Chosen One," a favorite of Guru's. She didn't know any other way of life until she was old enough to start asking the "real questions." Even as she began to realize the hold that Guru had on his disciples, it wasn't easy for her to break away from the only life she had ever known.

This is her story of a life lived in servitude to a man who believed himself to be the Supreme; the story of a girl who decided to see what else the world had in store for her; and life through the eyes of a girl who struggled to make her own decisions. [Click here to read the rest of this review]


Toronto Sun Review 6/21/2009 Review by Yvonne Crittenden
Books in Brief

Jayanti Tamm is an American woman who grew up in a cult from birth -- indeed when her hippie parents bore her, the guru designated her "Chosen One," and she regularly sat in the place of honour at his feet. He was a charismatic, ambitious Bengali called Sri Chinmoy, who became guru to thousands of international disciples and included celebrities like Sting, Nelson Mandela and even Pope John Paul II as admirers. [Click here to read the rest of this review]


Citywide: NYU Radio program interview 6/17/2009
WNYU 89.1 FM [Click here to listen]


Carlsbad Current-Argus Review 6/13/2009 Review by Beth Nieman
Footnotes: Tales of life in a cult

The Emperor's New Clothes," by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, is a familiar cautionary tale about not taking things at face value. Otherwise, you might end up naked in the public square, like the foolish ruler who believed what he was told by a couple of con men.

Author Jayanti Tamm was caught in such a con man's trap. Her book, "Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult," relates her childhood spent in a personality cult, from which she was expelled in her 20s. [Click here to read the rest of this review]


Greenwich Time Article 6/13/2009 Interview by Colin Gustafson
Greenwich native calls Chinmoy's ministry a 'cult'

When the late guru Sri Chinmoy came to Greenwich to lift an elephant in a circus-like street spectacle in 1984, former resident Jayanti Tamm, then 14, knew her secret was out.

"The next day, the newspaper had these breathless quotes from my parents, praising their spiritual leader (Chinmoy) for this feat (of strength)," Tamm said. "I was outed to the entire town."

A graduate of Greenwich Academy, Tamm says she spent many years in Greenwich leading a double life. By day, she was a typical teenager, she said, attending class and playing sports at the all-girls private school.

At home, however, she led a secret life as Chinmoy's so-called chosen disciple, along with her brother and parents, who were assigned by the guru to recruit disciples for his Queens-based spiritual ministry.

Growing more disillusioned with Chinmoy's teachings as a teenager, Tamm eventually rebelled against him and, at age 25, was kicked out of his ministry for disobedience. [Click here to read the rest of this review]


Asbury Park Press Interview 6/7/2009 Interview by Kelly-Jane Cotter
Freehold author discovers her truth

When Jayanti Tamm was a child, there was only one piece of furniture in her living room, and nobody in her family was allowed to touch it.

It was a throne reserved for their guru, Sri Chinmoy, a Bangladeshi who moved to Queens, N.Y., in 1964 and declared himself to be God on Earth. He claimed to be the highest avatar, holier than Vishnu, the Buddha, Muhammad or Jesus Christ. Her parents believed that, and raised Jayanti and her older half-brother accordingly.

What's more, Jayanti herself was special. She was the Chosen One, a soul created to be Chinmoy's perfect disciple. Guru gave Jayanti her name at birth, and, because her parents deferred to Chinmoy absolutely, he essentially raised her.From early on, however, Jayanti Tamm felt unworthy of this elevated status. She was bored and fidgety during hours of meditation each day. She didn't like the daily commute between her family's house in Norwalk, Conn., owned by Guru, and the ashram in Queens, N.Y., also owned by Guru. She wanted a pet bunny, which she got, and a normal childhood, which she most certainly did not get. [Click here to read the rest of this review]


Winnipeg Free Press Review 4/26/2009 Review by Jeff Presslaff
Hazards of a controlling leader

It is 2009. Jim Jones, Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson are within living memory. Piles of books, films and TV shows relate the hazards of falling under the spell of a charismatic, controlling leader.

Who needs another? Should there be any sympathy left for those who forsake the responsibility to lead their own lives?

These are some of the questions being directed at Jayanti Tamm, whose memoir Cartwheels in a Sari recounts her 25 years as a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, the Bangladeshi self-proclaimed holy man who amassed a worldwide following in the last decades of the 20th century.

But Tamm is not your ordinary cultist. She did not, like her parents, flee modern alienation for the safety of an all-knowing guru who would direct her life.

She is also unlike other children born to such parents, who either take to the community or fall away with little consequence.

Tamm was the Chosen One — a soul allegedly called down from heaven to serve history’s greatest avatar (his own assessment) as his most devoted disciple.

Or perhaps the Guru simply finessed an awkward situation. [Click here to read the rest of this review]


People Magazine: A Four out of Four Star Review 4/27/2009 Reviewed by Beth Perry

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. She says he held “ugly girl” contests and sought to control their private lives, even telling a member to have an abortion. 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.


Washington D.C. Examiner Review 4/21/2009 Review by Camille Tuutti-Winkler
No easy life living in a 'cult'

From birth, Jayanti Tamm was declared the Chosen One and destined to be the life-long disciple of Sri Chinmoy, the self-proclaimed spiritual master and messenger of God. With thousands of followers around the world and fans ranging from world leaders to Hollywood luminaries, Chinmoy built an enterprise of followers whose philosophy encouraged meditation and full-time quest for God-realization, but shunned materialism, sex, books, TV and higher education.

In "Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult" (Harmony Books), Tamm writes how devoting her childhood to Chinmoy's teachings and trying to be as "soulful" as possible, she never cast doubt upon her guru. [Click here to read the rest of this review]


Betsy's Blog: Review and Interview 4/16/2009 Review by Betsy Robinson
Betsy's Blog: Notes from a Crusty Spiritual Seeker—an eclectic mix of soul-stirring cultural stuff—

In this time of risk-taking based on promises of exorbitant returns from precarious investments, what could be more timely than the tale of growing up in a community where everybody has surrendered all decision-making and self-responsibility for the promise of divine protection and maybe God realization?

In her riveting, sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious memoir, Cartwheels in a Sari (Harmony Books, April 14, 2009), Jayanti Tamm recounts how her parents, like so many people who came of age in the sixties and seventies, met a guru after years of spiritual seeking.
[Click here to read the rest of this review] Book Review 4/14/2009 Review by Krystle M. Davis
Under The Thumb Of Cult Leader Sri Chinmoy

Cults are notorious for convincing people to do the unthinkable. In March, a member of the now-defunct One Mind Ministries pleaded guilty to starving her son to death. Allegedly, she and other cult members stopped feeding the 1-year-old because he wouldn't say "amen" at mealtime.

Back in 1993, David Koresh's Branch Davidian sect ended in a conflagration after a 51-day standoff with the FBI. In 1978, over 900 members of the People's Temple died at Jonestown, Guyana, in a mass murder-suicide; and in 1997, scores of Heaven's Gate followers killed themselves in California.
[Click here to read the rest of this review] Review 4/14/2009 Review by Jyoti Roy
Don’t be fooled by the somewhat whimsical title of Jayanti Tamm’s memoir Cartwheels in a Sari; this account of a young woman’s life as "growing up cult" couples the childlike innocence of a cartwheel with the feeling of inertia and tumbling; she sums this up in a passage from the end of the book: "The inversion of my body, losing track of gravity and direction, was disorienting and delirious. From my vantage point, I saw Guru and all of the disciples upside-down, and no one else had... I did not know which was the correct way."
[Click here to read the rest of this review]


Washington Post Blog 4/3/2009
I was asked to write a column for the Washington Post and Newsweek online. It is in their special section, "On Faith," which examines contemporary religious issues. Please click here to read the article. (Comments are closed for this blog).


Booklist Review by Gillian Engberg
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.


Kirkus Reviews 3/15/2009
Personal account of growing up in the cult founded by Indian guru Sri Chinmoy. Tamm (English/Ocean County Coll.) recounts the story of her childhood in a family dedicated to Chinmoy's spiritual community in Queens, N.Y., beginning with her parents' "divine marriage" in 1969. Although intended as a celibate union, her mother soon became pregnant. Chinmoy determined that the child was a special soul, destined to play a privileged role within the meditation center. As a girl, Tamm's life was shaped profoundly by this "myth of [her] birth" and by the unique status that it conferred on her. She 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, primarily experienced through the public-school system. 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. The author wryly reflects on Chinmoy's strategies of manipulation and self-aggrandizement and provides sobering details....of [her]eventual departure from the community. An earnest memoir of an exceptional childhood.


Publishers Weekly, 1/19/2009
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.)


Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There and I'm Looking Through You
"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."


Da Chen, New York Times Bestselling author of Colors of the Mountain
"I so adored this book. It brought me to tears and even more laughter, with the absurdity of a life that the author was thrust into and made to believe. Lyrical and soulful and at times utterly laugh-out-loud hilarious, it's a present day Last Emperor."


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