Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult
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Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult

3.27 of 5 stars 3.27  ·  rating details  ·  597 ratings  ·  125 reviews
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 (...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 14th 2009 by Crown (first published January 1st 2009)
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When I was growing up, I always wondered about the white women in saris who worked at the UN and why my mother didn't seem to know any of them (after all, she also wore a sari to work). She was able to tell me they were followers of Shri Chinmoy and worked at staff positions, i.e. they were mostly secretaries. This memoir fills in some of the gaps, including why none of them were in the professional grade. The charismatic and autocratic Shri Chinmoy wanted an in at the UN, but since he discourag...more
Sarah Keliher
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 feat...more
A fascinating account of growing up, from birth, in a cult. The cult leader, Sri Chinmoy, is one manipulative son of a bitch, and it's fun reading about his insane rules: he insists on celibacy among his followers, he holds a vote to determine the ugliest girl among his sycophants, he has his followers rig up machines that create the illusion he's weightlifting people and elephants,and he orders pregnant women to get abortions.

The writing won't win any prizes ("The familiar comfort of my small J...more
Elevate Difference
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...more
The author owes me my time back.

Pg. 277 - One phone message, and forever after Guru and his mission repossessed everything.

Huh...she still lived in her mother's house. She still communicated with her mother and father.

Pg. 281 - Nothing from my past was available for me to rely on - I was on my own.

Huh...she spent a year in Europe, traveling from country to country. I can barely get from state to state. I think she beats me on life skills.

This book was written as if I had heard of Sr...more
When I first came to the US in 1970, I remember seeing the Hari Krishnas around in NYC where we lived. I found it fascinating to see these " white Americans" dressed in saris..trying to look Indian! I was four then and did not understand what it was all about. My parents didn't either..because as new immigrants we went to their temple a few times..thinking it was a Hindu temple and enamored with how passionately they would sing and dance while praying to our deities. Even we didn't have that muc...more
Alex Templeton
I should admit that I have a vaguely personal connection to this book—Tamm’s mother, who is featured prominently, was my fiancé’s landlady for a couple of years. She became a follower of Sri Chinmoy, and was directed by Chinmoy to marry her husband. When they—against orders—conceived Tamm, Tamm was named as his “Chosen One”. The memoir is about Tamm’s life growing up completely in the service of another. After I was done reading this book, I looked up Chinmoy online, and was surprised to read so...more
Apr 06, 2009 Emily marked it as to-read
This girl grew up in a cult that believed she was a special, divine child. They had an all powerful leader who told them exactly what to do.

I grew up in a similar cult: my family. My mother always told me exactly what to do and think. She also told me that I was not allowed to do things (ie ride a bike or watch Kirk Cameron in "Growing Pains") because I was special and she protecting me.

I think i've read enough cult member books for awhile now. Totally disturbing. Sometimes i think i'm the only one that grew up being skeptical of everyone and everything. I'm still a dedicated Christian but i don't easily trust people or organizations. God on the other hand: I give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. But back to the book...

Good writing, very enjoyable read. Funny too. But an entire story about a girl growing up surrounded by lemming like morons Is hard on the heart....more
Lisa Louie
Cartwheels in a Sari is a well-written memoir about one woman's long journey of faith and questioning within the cult surrounding Sri Chinmoy, or “Guru” as she calls him throughout the book. Born of two devotees who copulated against Guru's wishes, Jayanti enters the world as the “Chosen One,” the soul specially chosen by Guru to be reincarnated in service to him. She tells the story of how every aspect of her family life was dominated by Guru; they spent most of their time and resources in devo...more
Wonderful book that answers many of the questions I had about cults. I'm about the same age as the author, and as a kid I wondered about children living in the cults that I sometimes saw on TV. The life she describes is really heartbreaking.

The book's descriptions of those on the inside versus the unenlightened outside are similar to what I read in Kyria Abrahams' book I'm Perfect, You're Doomed, which detailed growing up Jehovah's Witness. The outside world is demonized, making followers afraid...more

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.
I didn't dislike this book, but I had higher hopes for it. Tamm's time in the cult was fascinating, although presented in an overly dispassionate voice. However, removing herself from Guru's influence was almost a postscript. I was disappointed, since I find the rebuilding at least as interesting as the dysfunction.
I ripped through this book. The first page page or two, I was felling kind of ho-hum about it and then, before I knew it, I was on the 90th page. Fascinating story, well told.
Satkirpal Khalsa
Great insight into being raised in a cult. For both outsiders and insiders.
Elliot Ratzman
Here is a cult for you: Sri Chinmoy, a Bangledeshi charlatan whose childhood dream was to be a guru, arrives in America recruiting followers, including author Jayanti Tamm’s parents. They are “married” the first night they meet and subsequently, and against Chinmoy’s insistence on abstinence, conceive our author. Jayanti becomes Chinmoy’s mascot, and grows up within this guru-cult surrounded by a bizarre cast of characters. Chinmoy encouraged his followers to get jobs at the UN-where he’s feted,...more
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 kinder...more
Lezlee Hays
An interesting and well written account of one woman's experience growing up in the Sri Chinmoy Centre Church. Tamm does a good job of explaining her experience of leaving what she ultimately came to view as a cult, while still maintaining a level of respect for the guru and his followers. A compelling story, it rings true because in part because of its absence of any scathing or over-the-top accusations of what it was like growing up under the Guru's care. In the end I am left with the impressi...more
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 re...more
A true account of a now young women's memory of growing up in a cult in the United States as a child and teen. Told without bitterness, a thoughtful and honest reminicense of the allure and the illusions...

ouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu. In order to finish the last 4 or 5 pages of the story I needed to run a bubble bath and prepare myself a bit. Very interesting book on a personal note because of my prior years living in a so called spiritual community. There were so many instances I could relate to....a...more
Jayanti Tamm's parents met under the auspices of Sri Chinmoy, when the Indian guru was still running his cult out of a run-down Manhattan apartment building; they were ordered to get married for their mutual spiritual benefit, but not to have sex, so when Tamm's mother became pregnant, Sri Chinmoy only allowed them to go through with the pregnancy after he had declared that their child was destined to become his greatest disciple. You can imagine the pressure that put on the girl growing up.

Beth Anne
interesting story of a woman who grew up in a cult in new york city. i found the writing to be ok...nothing blew me away about her style, or prose.

i guess the heart of this novel is really just how strange a child's life can be because of their parents stupid choice to follow an idiot guru who claims to be some sort of enlightened god. it made me think about what kind of person Sri Chinmoy must be, to claim this kind of power and have this kind of influence over his followers...and it also made...more
Oh WOW. I had no idea that this cult was actually real and in America. It seems to still have some followers today. I am sure that their fervor and popularity isn't what it used to be since their Guru has died, but it is still practiced.

After reading Cartwheels in a Sari, I did a little research on Sri Chinmoy. Everything I could find on him was just as this book described and I found the novel and information quite intriguing. I could not beleive some of the things this cult practiced though. M...more
Recounts the author's upbringing within the Sri Chinmoy cult. I'd heard of them via the 3,000 mile + "self-transcendence" race they put on in NYC, repeatedly circling a short sidewalk loop. Running is not really central to the story, though the author does put in a stint as a competitor in daily "runners are smilers" 2-mile races to please Chinmoy (aka "Guru" throughout this book).

She was born into the cult, her parents having (obviously) violated the celibacy rule. Chinmoy decided she was the c...more
Jun 07, 2012 Chemteacher rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in cults or closed societies.
Shelves: biographical

This book is the memoir of Jayanti Tamm, a child born into the Sri Chinmoy cult in 1970. Born of parents in an arranged marriage, she was designated by the guru of the cult as the "Chosen One" and raised in the cult as a special child, with special privileges and responsibilities. The book describes the life of a child in a cult, and the ultimate maturation of Jayanti into early womanhood and independence.

I read this book in one sitting. It's a relatively easy read, while still containing narra...more
This memoir is a riveting look into the cruelty, pettiness, and politics of cult life. But it is also an extremely limited work, offering only a flimsy portrayal of the psychology of cultists and a cartoonish portrait of family disfunction.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sri Chinmoy cult revolves around a world-class narcissist and master manipulator. But Tamm is equally critical of this guru's disciples, damaged people seeking compassion and wisdom, who instead find themselves under Soviet-style su...more
This memoir of growing up in a cult in has a lucid daydream like tone to it. When Jayanti's parents both join the same religious organization in the 1970s, the don't bat an eye when their leader, Guru Sri Chinmo bids them to marry even though they have just met. Sex is technically not allowed, but the couple produce children, and their daughter Jayanti, is welcomed into the clan as the Chosen One: a special disciple. As such, she holds some position of power, and is allowed very close to Guru. S...more
WOW! Anyone who says the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is a cult should read this book. How many miserable Mormons do you know?! Probably not many.

The lack of self-esteem and self-destructive behavior this poor woman experienced since her birth was heart breaking! Her entire life was focused on her self-serving "guru." All he cared about was his own good, and he conceitedly pursued fame and publicity. He even lied to people to get them to praise him. What did guru do to h...more
Cartwheels in a Sari by Jayanti Tamm is a very well written, interesting memoir about growing up as part of a cult. When her parents break their guru’s rule about sex and her mother ends up pregnant, their guru tells them he has arranged for a special soul to be sent to them, a soul that will be his perfect disciple on earth. Tamm was told from infancy that she was this special soul. The story follows her into her 20s, when she finally breaks with her guru.

The thing I liked most about Cartwheels...more
I found the story interesting. I wanted more answers in the end than she gave. I would have liked to hear more about her transition into regular society. She started the book with the story of the Guru contacting her. I was wondering how often he did that and how she dealt with it. Also I wanted to know about how his followers proceeded after his death. Did some of them come to the same view that it was a hoax or did they keep on believing?
It's an interesting coincidence the timing of his death...more
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Jayanti Tamm was born and raised in the cult of the guru Sri Chinmoy. For over twenty-five years she lived inside the guru's inner circle. After years of struggling, she left the group. She currently teaches creative writing at Ocean County College. Jayanti lives in New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and two cats. She is currently working on a novel.
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