We received the following account from an old-time devotee and ashram resident:
My name is Radhika Nair, and I feel it is important to share my story and my experience of life with Amma and with Gail Tredwell.
Our family, which includes my husband and two kids, have known Amma since 1989. We have been living in the ashram for the last 21 years, just about the same length of time that Gail Tredwell lived in the ashram. When we moved there, our children were still in their diapers. From the beginning of my stay there, I served in the International Office, receiving visitors to the ashram. On all of Amma’s foreign tours, our family would accompany Amma and stay in the same devotees’ house that Amma would stay in. I would cook the dinners for the swamis, sing bhajans, and serve in the tour bookstore. I lived in very close proximity to Amma and all the sannyasis, including Gail. Many times I slept in the same room with Gail. Frankly, I used to appreciate Gail only because of her position – she was seen as Amma’s right hand, so I respected her and listened to her. But if she had not been in that position, I would have kept my distance. She was a very hard person, extremely manipulative, and very, very controlling. Many times she used me to meet her ends. I remember getting into so many unpleasant situations because she would tell me to reprimand a particular person, but when push came to shove, she would wash her hands of it and make it look like it had all been my idea. Still she once had many beautiful qualities that I aspired to have. During the early 1990s, I saw her as very dedicated, hard-working and sincere in her work. Unfortunately, it seems her negativity proved the better of her and even these good qualities began to vanish and finally disappear completely. I remember having many discussions with her where I would find myself in a state of shock, wondering how someone who had been so close to Amma for so many years could be so negative about everything – she had a bad attitude about literally everything she laid eyes on or mentioned in discussion.
“Just out of the sheer thrill of seeing my son cry, Gail kept pulling his pants down along with his diapers, exposing him in front of everyone. He was embarrassed about people seeing him wearing diapers and burst into tears.”
She seemed to take a special pleasure in other’s suffering, almost to the point of being sadistic. There were many incidences in my life where I have had reasons to feel that she was definitely mentally imbalanced. To be specific, I remember when my son was just six years old, Amma was visiting a devotee’s house in Los Angeles. My family was also there along with Amma. Later in the evening, I was trying to put the kids to bed. Even though my son was six, I used to have him wear a diaper just for the nights – just out of my own concern that something might happen in a guest’s bed. That night, he was trying to go to sleep when, just out of the sheer thrill of seeing him cry, Gail kept pulling his pants down along with his diapers, exposing him in front of everyone. He was embarrassed about people seeing him wearing diapers and burst into tears. But Gail was relentless. Each time he ran to me and I pulled his pants back up, she would tear him out of my arms and pull his pants down again and start laughing sadistically. She kept trying to enlist the hosts of the house and others in her sick little game, but of course no one else wanted to play. I wanted to stop her but out of respect for her as one of Amma’s senior disciples, I didn’t want to tell her what to do. It was an extremely awkward, uncomfortable moment for everyone, and it was deeply painful for me as a mother. Finally our host came and rescued my son from her sadistic play, carrying him away into another room.
“As my children both lay huddled on the floor clutching their mutilated stuffed animals, Gail looked at me and beamed, as happy as can be: “There’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing children suffer,’ she said.”
That was not the only time I was forced to watch her torture my children. Another time, the kids each had a stuffed animal that Amma had personally given to them. These toys were very dear to them – they would sleep with the stuffed animals every night. My son had a koala bear with a baby in its arms; Amma had given my daughter a kangaroo with a baby in her pouch. Amma used to tell them that they were the babies and she was the mama. One evening on tour, when were staying in the same room with Gail, suddenly she just grabbed both stuffed animals from the children and, looking at the children carefully, said, “Do you know what I always loved to do with my stuffed animals, when I was little like you? No? Let me show you.” So saying, she plucked the eyes off my son’s koala bear and tossed them on the ground. My son immediately burst into tears and began crying loudly and as she dropped the bear and shifted her focus to the kangaroo. Seeing this, my daughter began begging her not to do the same thing to her kangaroo. Gail watched my daughter calmly for a few moments. Then she plucked out the kangaroo’s eyes one by one. As my children both lay huddled on the floor clutching their mutilated stuffed animals, Gail looked at me and beamed, looking happy as can be. I still remember what she said to me, just like it was yesterday, as I was so profoundly shocked and disturbed by her words: “There’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing children suffer.” From that moment onwards, I knew that she was deeply disturbed, totally imbalanced mentally. We had shared many close moments together. On several occasions, she had opened her heart to me and tearfully told me that she had had a very painful childhood and that she was feeling deeply depressed.
But the last few years before she left, she became totally closed off. Her negativity grew to such an extent that everything around her, she saw as exactly the opposite of the way the rest of us saw it. If I saw something as beautiful, she would see it as ugly. I still remember that one devotee’s daughter, at the age of just three years old, would spin around in pure joy and ecstasy during Amma’s bhajans. I used to wonder aloud if the little girl had been a Sufi in her past life. Hearing this, Gail would remark that the girl must be mentally retarded or disturbed. Listening to the swamis’ bhajans, I would comment on how beautiful they were, but she would have only sarcastic, cutting remarks about them and their music. Of course I didn’t know it then, but she was on her way out.
Frankly, for me and many others that I know personally in the ashram, life under her was truly a “holy hell.” Amma was our only solace. On several occasions when I would be crying alone, Amma would call for me and ask, “Was Gayatri mean to you?” I would not say anything, as I didn’t want to say anything against Gayatri – that was how much respect I held for her despite everything. You may wonder how I could bear all this. When you see Amma love and accept everyone around her, you also develop that capacity to some extent—it just happens automatically. Since Gayatri was Amma’s attendant, I was able to put up with everything.
All I have to say is, my children were brought up beautifully in the ashram solely by Amma’s influence. Amma insisted that they go to medical school, they are both practicing doctors now – a vocation they both find to be profoundly rewarding and to which they have dedicated themselves wholeheartedly. My husband and I are eternally grateful to Amma. In fact, all of us living in the ashram are truly one family. The swamis, brahmacharis, brahmacharinis, householder residents, international residents, are all living in the little slice of heaven that is Amma’s ashram. As for those who have left the ashram, I have always wished only well for them and hoped that they found their happiness and peace of mind whatever path they chose to tread. Amma has never forced anyone to stay in the ashram, and neither does anyone else. We stay because we choose to, because we derive happiness and deep satisfaction from staying in the community of the ashram, from serving each other and society, and from learning from Amma’s teachings and personal example. Anyone who wishes to leave can walk out the door at any time. If they later choose to come back, they can do that too. A few brahmacharis and brahmacharinis who have left the ashram to get married still serve in Amma’s institutions. The idea that Gail had to leave the ashram hiding under a blanket would be laughable if the whole thing weren’t so sad. The truth is, Gail could have walked right out the front door in plain daylight.
“Still, I do not bear her ill will. Instead of trying to destroy the faith of others who are enjoying their life with Amma, I would hope that she focuses on finding her own peace of mind and getting the help she clearly needs.”
As for Gayatri, even after she left, all these years I kept quiet about what she put my children and me through. But now that she is attacking Amma, and attacking my brothers and sisters, I cannot keep quiet – I need to share the truth of who she was as I experienced her. Still, I do not bear her ill will. Seeing her photo online, it seems the last fourteen years have not been kind to her. Instead of trying to destroy the faith of others who are enjoying their life with Amma, I would hope that she focuses on finding her own peace of mind and getting the help she clearly needs.
Since Gayatri left, the past 14 years I have spent a lot of time with Amma in her room, sometimes serving in the same capacity as she did; I have spent countless nights there. I cook for Amma and help in other ways as well. My time spent with Amma in this way has been totally blissful. If the types of things that Gail alleges in her book were true, I would have been and remain in a position to witness it. And yet, nothing in my experience matches her story. All I have seen is Amma’s relentlessly selfless nature as she continues to serve even in private – reading letters, taking phone calls from people running the projects and institutions, calling devotees around the world who are sick or going through personal crises, and showering love and attention on all the kids who are growing up in the ashram.