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. So moved were they by the experience that they didn't question his direction to
marry each other - despite the fact that they'd just met. They did, however, flaunt the
directive to remain celibate. On hearing about the impending birth of Jayanti, Sri Chinmoy
(referred to as Guru), a self-proclaimed realized master, announced that he had
communed with the "Supreme" who was sending a special soul who would be the
"chosen one" - Guru's special disciple. Writes Jayanti:
"In the history of the Sri Chinmoy Center, from its humble beginnings in 1964 to its
present-day expansion with more than seven thousand followers around the world and
the hundreds of thousands of ex-disciples and seekers who, for however fleeting a time,
came to experience Guru's presence, I, according to the legend ..., am the only soul
to have been personally invited, selected, or commanded to incarnate into his realm
on earth. . . . I was to be Ananda to Buddha, the Peter to Jesus, the Lakshmana to Rama,
a devoted, sacrificial being, selfless and tireless, pleasing the master unconditionally."
There was one problem with this. The same analytical thinking, unwavering honesty,
and blazing life force that make Jayanti such a compelling writer also made it impossible
for her to deny the gap between how she felt and was (a stubborn, at times deceitful,
always questioning kid) and what Guru declared and the Sri Chinmoy community
expected her to be. The story of how she gradually disconnected and eventually was
banned from the community is the stuff of a great movie. Replete with bizarre scenes of
Guru supposedly weightlifting elephants and contests to determine who had the most
soulful smile, as well as Jayanti's desperate attempts to live like a normal sexual being and
fit into a world that Guru disparaged, the book is a great rollercoaster ride.
With a journalist's eye, a dramatist's ear, and a great storyteller's sense of structure,
Jayanti makes it clear that what is most remarkable about her story is how insidiously an
ordinary spiritual quest and a desire for a teacher turned into a cult; how skillfully a
worldwide reputation and a coterie of admiring celebrities were manipulated.
Cartwheels in a Sari is simultaneously a unique memoir and a
hauntingly familiar story for the billions of people who,
longing for a magical fix, surrender some part of themselves.
This is also a story for anyone who is certain that their
dysfunctional family was the weirdest or the worst, and that
is why they've had such a hard time in life.
It was my honor to meet Jayanti Tamm and her wild eighteen-month-old daughter, Nadira. Nadira can throw anything that's not nailed down, climb, and tap dance on coffee tables - all of which
she did as Jayanti and I calmly played interference for every object in the room.
What was amazing was how relaxed we both were. Jayanti Tamm is an earth mother
- smart, deep, mature, and wise. To read our interview, click here.
For more author info: www.jayantitamm.com