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Life Between My Pages presents Jayanti Tamm
September 01, 2009

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We are pleased to bring you BCQ's own series, Life Between My Pages!

This series will feature a selected author each month who will share with you their personal story about how they got to where they are today.

Prepare to be completely WOWED by these writers! You've read their books, fallen in love with their style, now learn about their journey.

Each month, when the newsletter shows up in your inbox, look for the featured author's name in the subject line. Some authors you will immediately recognize, some you will not. We can assure every single author invited to participate will tell a story you won't want to miss!

September 2009: Jayanti Tamm

Writing My Life

By Jayanti Tamm

Ever since I kept my first diary at age five, my diary entries all began the same way:
“Today Guru. . . .”

I was an observer, a recorder. At five, I was committed to posterity; the purpose of my writing was to preserve the momentous events that I was blessed to witness every day.
“Today Guru ate a grilled cheese . . . . .”
“Today Guru walked three miles . . . . .”
“Today Guru called me a ‘good girl’ . . . .”

In 1968, my parents made the decision to be initiated as disciples of the eccentric Indian guru Sri Chinmoy; without realizing it, they had locked me into a bizarre life. By the time I was born in 1970, Sri Chinmoy declared himself to be an avatar, the incarnation of God in human form and demanded his disciples be celibate, obeying his commands and surrendering their lives to him. To me, he was my everything—my father and my God. As a child I basked in his presence, striving to please him. Since one of Sri Chinmoy’s voluminous outpourings was writing—he self-published thousands of books and pamphlets—wanting to emulate my beloved Guru, I secretly longed to write as well, but I believed that nothing I could create would be of any worth. Since Sri Chinmoy was the center of my world, I justified my efforts at writing if I focused them solely on him—the guru became my one and only subject to devotedly scribe onto the pages of my diary.
“Today Guru gave me a mango . . . .”
“Today Guru sold a new book . . . .”

As a teenager, the guru’s rigid rules felt confining and suffocating—no reading books other than his own writings, no listening to music other than his own compositions, no communicating with people who lived in the ‘outside’ world. When I attempted to bend his rules, I was swiftly and harshly apprehended.
“Today Guru scolded me . . . .”
“Today Guru ignored me . . . .”

Eventually, I lost interest in writing all together. I no longer cared nor longed to memorialize the Guru.

By my mid-twenties, I was expelled from the cult; banished from and stripped of my former-life, and I tenuously ventured out into the world beyond his ashram. With a new sense of liberation, I plunged into the previously forbidden world of literature. I read as many books as I could—novels and memoirs written by authors spanning generations, books about difficult choices, about families, about loss. I abandoned my pen for a keyboard and began to write. This time, all topics were possible, all subjects ripe for exploration, but the story that I found myself gravitating to again and again was the Guru and my former life. I tried to ignore it, bypassing it for a bland novel about characters I never understood nor truly connected to, but it seemed destined to fail. The novel was unanimously rejected by every literary agent to whom I had nervously mailed it. The voluminous pile of rejection letters confirmed my long held suspicion that I wasn’t worthy of much, let alone considering myself to be a writer. The Guru was the writer; I was simply a spectator, a recorder. I could take true events and explore them, but I didn’t believe that there could be any value in that.

It took me years before the wounds of my past, once throbbing and raw, had begun to subside. That was when one day I opened the lid to a dusty trunk filled with my old diaries. It was then that I realized I would never be able to become a true writer until I finished the work that I had begun decades before—an account of my own life with the guru. And that is what I did. Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult was published in April 2009. In writing the story of my own life, I liberated myself both as an independent person and also as a writer.

Today, I am happily at work on a novel whose characters have nothing to do with gurus or cults. While I am relishing in the imaginative pleasure of inventing scenes and dialogue, a part of me still wanted to work within the framework of nonfiction. I realized that I am fascinated in exploring the complexities and ramifications of true life events. My new novel is giving me the freedom to push myself and take some creative risks, while anchoring me to the true events that, at its core, are like my former life in the cult, at times, stranger than fiction.

A few of the many books that I relish...

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lying Awake by Mark Salzman
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Visit Jayanti Tamm's website for more information about the author and her memoir.

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