How did I, of Ashkenazi Jewish roots, wind up with a Dravidian Tamil name?
It’s often assumed that my father was a hippie. I would not categorize him as such; however, the 1960s culture certainly played an essential part in his decisions. He was always inclined to intellectual and pious discipline. Some may have expected him to become a rabbi. To his parents’ dismay, my mother and father met a Tamil yogi at a little bookshop in New York City, and they became devout kundalini yogic practitioners instead. Yogi Ramaiah, or affectionately known as “Yogiar,” was not so much the glamorous type. He was quite a workaholic, circling the world year after year, initiating thousands of people to the multi-faceted kundalini techniques. He asked them to integrate yoga into any of their diverse religious or spiritual backgrounds. My father was among some handfuls who decided they wanted to be followers of Yogiar and formed a group lifestyle that adopted Tamil Hindu traditions.
They built a network of ashrams around the world, and each offered a weekly yoga class to the public. They also hosted a yearly parliament of world religions to promote and share the respect for all religious beliefs and spiritual pursuits. As a child, I attended Sunday School and visited churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues alike. Not many people knew about yoga or vegetarians in those days. Our group was not much a commercial entity to attract the numbers like some of the other famous Indian and Eastern philosophy movements that gained traction in the 60s. They practiced an extremely disciplined routine that few could adhere to. Many of its members took oaths of celibacy and worked long hours to help sustain the organization, and among other milestones, build a yogic medical institute in India. The group, “Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Sangam,” is based on the teachings of 18 ancient pioneers of yoga, known as Siddhas. At my birth in 1970, Yogiar named me after the Siddha and famous poet, Thirumoolar (also spelled Tirumular).
Experimental across the board, the upbringing of children in the ashrams was no exception. Mine was a life untested and experiential from day one. If you’ve read my Bio, it mentions the juxtaposition between The Force and the Darkside. On one side, I was sent to monastic ashrams away from my parents and family during the school year. I lived with one or more “monks” from many ethnic and religious backgrounds, who made sure I was fed well and sent to school. I became the child not of only my parents, but the ashram network. I went to rough public schools in low-income urban neighborhoods. By the time I was 15, I’d already attended sometimes multiple schools in a city, including New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and two Mexico border desert towns; El Centro, California, and Yuma, Arizona. My parents were “stationed” at the New Orleans ashram, so, for many years, I spent the summers there. I also attended some years of grade school in New Orleans.
At age 15, I left the ashram to live by my own rules. Soon after, I also dropped out of high school from the 10th grade in New Orleans. That brings us to the other side. I was very different from the other kids in school, and was very difficult, if not impossible, to “fit in.” Often-time living in or adjacent to ghettos, I was mugged for candy in front of the ashram at age 7. Add to that my attendance to elementary school on a deep Bourbon St. corner in the sin city French Quarter of New Orleans. I lived the most idealistically purposed life of purity and aesthetic yogic practice in the ashrams and simultaneously, juxtaposed with my observations of the outside world drenched in debauchery, crime, drugs, and prostitutes. I’ve never been a criminal, but I’ve always been an insomniac. I was hopelessly attracted to the “Darkside” and the after-midnight city streets.
To be continued…