I first heard Jayanti Tamm during an NPR interview in 2009. Her poised discussion of her cult upbringing as the “Chosen One” within Sri Chinmoy’s cult inspired me to immediately order a copy of her book. Like many such books, “Cartwheels in a Sari” waited upon my bedside stack. A considerate friend then gifted me an autographed copy of her memoir, kindly saying, “Gina, it’s time to write yours.”
Wrestling with editing sections of my own cult upbringing memoir in the shadow of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I finally delved into Tamm’s story.
Jayanti Tamm, in “Cartwheels in a Sari; a memoir of growing up cult” bravely, humorously and with compassion describes the spiritual devotion which lured her parents and others to their deemed incarnation of God, Sri Chinmoy in 1969. Sri Chinmoy dictated her parents’ marriage upon their first meeting.
Tamm’s existence is in direct disobedience of the guru’s mandate for celibacy. Despite her parents humiliation for conceiving a child against their Guru’s wishes, Tam was labeled as the Guru’s “Chosen One.” Chinmoy dictated every aspect of her family home, her parents employment, education, dress, diet. Good girl that she was, Tamm lived to please her guru, reveling in each smile and praise he bestowed.
Tamm unabashedly writes of her devotion to Guru. Being raised in mainstream America while living in a cult house and family, Tamm experienced inevitable conflicts with public school social dynamics. Hiding her home life from school friends, she was set apart and unable to socialize with those in both public and private schools. Ever afraid that her families’ uniqueness would be discovered, Tamm lived a dual life. Yet she continued in devotion to guru, struggling and repressing her interest in boys so that she could remain on Guru’s spiritual path.
In her early twenties, Tamm began to realize that she had lived in a bubble her entire life. She was socially crippled when interacting with non cult members. She felt safe and assured of her place when within familiar repressive cult dynamics.
Tamm had traveled the world, met many politician and celebrities through Chinmoy’s contacts, yet she experienced the world only as Guru dictated. Everyone she loved also experienced the world only as their Guru, their God incarnate, dictated.
More than any cult memoir I’ve read, Tamm dramatically writes of the traumatic moment when she realized that her Guru is a fraud. Therefore Tamm, herself, and all that she had ever known was also fraudulent. Without guru, she had no identity, no family, no social world, no worldview, no God. Upon this realization as a non person, Tamm ran through her home seeking the most expedient method to end the fraud through suicide. Fortunately for all, her third floor apartment was not high enough to warrant a jump, her bread knife was dull, and the medicine cabinet held no medication since she had never seen a doctor.
In the psychological destruction of all that she knew, Tamm was forced to become a self determined individual. Her mother eventually left the group. Tamm’s brother remains devoted to Shri Chinmoy, ceasing contact with Tamm, since he could not support her destructive (e.g. non cult) choices.
For all who were raised in a cult, Tamm’s story is a variation on a theme. Her ability to describe the journey through a fantasy world that she both loved and despised, and subsequently move forward is testament to her great strength and determination.
Tamm’s writing proves that she is not a fraud. Her upbringing is real, an integral part of who she is today. Her compassionate voice, quest for honesty and love is a human theme told through the post-1960s idealism. Through her memoir, Tamm provides a service to all who struggle with cult history.
More about Jayanti Tamm can be read at her website: www.jayantitamm.com