Amma, universally known as "The Hugging Saint," went through a two-decade transformation from a simple fisherman's daughter to an international wonder worshiped by millions. Gail "Gayatri" Tredwell was there every step of the way—from early devotee to head female disciple, ever-present personal attendant, handmaiden, whipping post, and unwilling keeper of some devastating secrets.
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A Courageous Act
Gail Tredwell's book, Holy Hell, gives all a glimpse into the minefield of the traditional Guru disciple path, both the sublime and the horrific aspects. I would like to have heard more about the sublime aspect, so the reader without direct experience of Amma and such Gurus would better understand why she would tolerate such abuse, but regardless, I think Gail has done a great service (!) in sharing her story. Especially since I'm sure she anticipates the massive tidal wave of wrath from devotees and Amma's org to be unleashed against her. Read the book, read Amma's devotees' and Swami's responses....make up your own mind. Are the Amma defenders responding directly to Gail's accusations?....or are they merely attacking Gail's character??
I give the book 5 stars due to knowing the challenges of facing and communicating the extreme highs and lows of the guru disciple paths and Gail’s willingness to accept the public demonization being projected onto her by Amma’s community.
If you’re looking for the writing skills of DeLillo…go elsewhere. If you read Holy Hell knowing it’s a personal, subjective account that’s also part of a healing process. Buy it.
I loved Gail's book! From the moment I began reading it, I was hooked! It is wonderfully well-written and flows like a novel. Within moments of turning to the first page, Gail's story pulled me in and would not release me until I was done...with the whole book...in a day.
Gail tells the story of the 20+ years she spent with Amma aka Ammachi, the hugging saint, as her personal attendant. She shares how she ended up in India, then with Amma, and her years with her. She tells of finally coming to the realization that she needed to escape and then, doing just that.
As I read, I was struck over and over again by the reality of what she wrote. I lived in Amma's ashram for 2 years in the 90s, traveling back to the US shortly during the summer to work the US Tour. So many things I saw (although I wasn't an insider), so many things I heard...that didn't add up until I read her book. Her book corroborates so much. I KNEW the people she names. I talked to them. I watched them. I saw her (Gail, at the time, Swamini Amma) on her little bridge holding mini-meetings; I saw Swamiji (Balu) watching from afar with an odd look on his face. I saw, countless times, Amma hit this person or that. Many times, I watched Amma move only to see Swamini Amma flinch - I knew about the slaps, the hits, but not the severity, not the kicks and hair-pulling...but I SAW the terror in Swamini Amma's eyes, I saw the exhaustion, the being overwhelmed and consumed...this book finally put into place so many pieces of the puzzle.
Gail asks in her book, during one of Amma's fits of rage, something to the effect of, "Did people on the outside see? Did we know?" Well, we did see...a little, dimly, vaguely...but now we see all and it makes sense. So much sense.
And then, there are the other abuses, the lies, the cover- up, the manipulation...so much of it finally makes sense. It makes so much sense.
I'm so glad Gail wrote this book. I pray she gets the peace and joy she deserves after all these years of seeking.
If you want an excellent, well-written book to read... If you want to start on a book you'll be hard-pressed to put down... If you want the truth - in all its horror and ugliness and honesty... Then, this is the book for you! It won't disappoint!
What a Journey!
What a pleasure it was to read Gail's book. Having been involved with a very famous guru since 1972, it was easy to empathize with her growing awareness of the rather human qualities of Amma that contradicted the Divine projections placed on her. Authentic spiritual seeking is an amazingly complex undertaking with so many unexpected twists and turns. Gail's book is a tale of this path starting at the very beginning of Amma's eventual rise to world fame. Rather than a trashing of her former guru, Gail transparently recounts her experiences over a twenty year period working closely with Amma and recounts all the good, bad and ugly. You will not be disappointed by this well written book by an authentic spiritual seeker.