How I joined a cult – Chapter Five: Stockholm

Continued from Chapter Four

I go by train to the North of Germany and by ferry to the South of Sweden. I don’t have enough money for the whole trip so I find a lorry driver to give me a lift from Trelleborg to Stockholm. It takes about 8 hours. Someone picks me up from the station and drives me to Korsnäs Gård. It’s a 40 minute ride.

Korsnas is a collection of buildings around a central manor. I am housed in a room over the kitchen in the central building. Another bunk bed. There is not much furniture in the room and the first conflict I have is when I ask for a little table and are branded ‘demanding’. I doubt myself because I thought demanding was bad. (Without humility we cannot get the mercy of Krishna etc.) Strangely, the person who called me demanding is later on going to be one of the few I will keep in touch with.

There are about 80 people there. My friend Linda, now Niramaya, is in Korsnas, with her parents and sister, who works in the administration. There are other families and teenagers whose parents are devotees.

The main business there is book production. The director Brahma Muhurta, a stocky Bavarian, wanted me there because I can read cyrillic and have trained as a typesetter. None of what I have learned is really useful in this setup so I get designated to work in repro. The couple running the office are not very personable. The lady is East German and was smuggled across the wall when it was still impossible to travel. Her husband is from former Yugoslavia. They cook their lunch in the back of the office, it’s the exact same meal every day. He has his toothbrush in the office.

The other German managing production is a skinny German with no energy. The kitchen manager is German too, the store manager is Indian but married to a German. They all are typical cult functionaries. They have absolute power and can decide over every aspect of someone’s life.

My work involves cutting out bits of printed text on foil and sticking them onto paper. We don’t talk. There are about 3 hours of daylight and the temperatures go down to 25. There is the same temple programme but I hardly every manage to get up for the 4.15 start. There is strict control so I have to force myself. Then I fall asleep around 6 which means I have rounds to chant for the rest of the day. It takes two hours with full concentration and it’s a slog trying to complete it later on. If I don’t take a nap I’m dead tired for the rest of the day.

Korsnas is mostly people scuffling from one building to the next. Everyone tries to manage. There is much more space for individuals than the places I have lived at before. It is also the HQ of the big zonal guru. Brahma’s wife is a beautiful Fin and they have a flat in a nearby town, where they keep backup books. They drive a nice car. Everyone is aware that we are at a constant war with the authorities and hide a lot of what is going on, so we can keep the charity status. Once I get sent into Stockholm to exchange some of the cash from the book distributors. I get asked for my passport and show it. They don’t send me again.

I don’t ever get into a good schedule. I make friends with the teenagers. I have lost most of my social skills and my peers are difficult to talk to, the editors and translators don’t seem to have an interest in me, and the managers are horrible people. There are some godsisters of mine but we aren’t close.

Then there are the guys. There are network engineers who manage the local network, and the global communications service called ‘COM’. A Serbian, a Croatian, a Belgian. (Later on I will find out the Belgian was involved in uncovering one of the ugliest scandals in the movement. He had good sense and a proper backbone. I’m proud to have known him.) The Serbian, a simple, big man, marries Linda’s sister. I really like the Croatian. He’s tall, lanky, younger than me, intelligent, calm, cultured, with a good smile. Anwhere else we would have been friends and everything would have been cool, but here where you either don’t talk or get married, I get obsessed. The other girls don’t get it. We all know about each other’s crushes. We call our crushes ‘min gubbe’ – my old man – and it’s very cute. I suffer a lot.

I forget the good things I did back in Germany. I very quickly lose the rest of my confidence. I also relax and have fun. We have parties where Linda makes pita breads and lots of dips. We watch the Sound of Music. I finally learn to wear sarees properly. In my room, I secretly read Scarlett, the follow-up to Gone with the Wind. One night I stay up after midnight and go on the computer. My gubbe has just logged in too. My heart nearly explodes.

I don’t manage the repro work very well. I am told there is one other service I can do. There is an old people’s home in the next village, 20 minutes walk away, which they just bought as an additional facility for Korsnas. They have shipped in about 15 young guys from Russia to do the building works, and they need a driver. A job where I don’t have to use my brain! I say yes. The director makes it clear he considers me useless for anything else.

I get out even less than back in Köln and it affects my judgment. The thought of picking up and going somewhere else doesn’t enter my mind. I overhear the cook and the store manager talking about me. It’s not great. There is talk about marrying me off to one of the guys who do the worship on the altar. He’s Azerbaijani and lovely actually. I do some service in the kitchen so we’ve met.

He is asked but he hesitates. (Later on, about a year before the time of writing this, we will get in touch and he will tell me that he really liked me and was sorry that he hesitated.) In the same time, those Russians come over and I start driving them around. They find it funny to be driven around by a young woman. I start getting presents from them. I’m cool enough not to fall for that. The guy I end up talking to because there’s no such silliness coming from him, is the one who ends up writing me a letter asking for marriage.

I have no hope that things with the Croatian will work out. The Russian writes me mails that impress me. Later I will find out they were written for him and spellchecked.

I decide to stop waiting around and say yes to the Russian. As a married woman at least you’re not controlled by the vicious temple authorities. I decide for the Russian because at least it was his own decision, and not an arranged marriage like with the Azerbaijani. The guy who first called me demanding is now the manager of the new place. He is the only one who stands up and asks me what the hell I’m doing. My suitor threatens him with violence. He shuts up. It’s my life, after all.

My father comes and spends the summer in Sweden with his wife and my half brother. We haven’t seen each other from the time my parents divorced when I was 5, until I went to see him in a saree when I was 23. Now a few years later we have an ok relationship. His wife is nice and their son is a teenager. My sister comes out too for a few days. She is married but doesn’t have kids yet. I have arranged a summer cottage for them, just a few hundred metres down the road from Korsnas. It’s nice. V and I have only just gotten engaged.

In autumn I work on a project with my former gubbe. V is aware of how I feel and is so protective that he stays in the room with us.

I move to a room in the old staff building of the former old people’s home. My fiance moves into a room in the main building. My former gubbe moves into another room in the same building. I still can’t talk to him. I’m still obsessing.

I now have a mobile phone I get called on if the guys need a lift, I have also started to do the flower arrangements for the altar in the morning. I have two hours from 5 to 7 to work on them. I’ve always made bouquets for my nan as a child, and we did flower decorations back on the farm at the festivals, so it’s something I am good at. I take day-long courses and learn more about it.

My fiance and I get married on paper within the first 4 months of his stay in Sweden. He really only gets married for the visa. He takes my name because a Western surname gets him more opportunities. I’m insisting that we wait a year for the temple ceremony so I can change my mind. I’m also the one who initiates physicality. It’s been a long time – and yes I’m one of the few who kept to the vows. I believe everyone else did. I later find out not everything was as it seems.

My guru comes to Korsnas. He meets my fiance. He doesn’t speak out about how obviously idiotic this is.

We spend time together but keep our separate rooms. I still drive the shuttle. I teach V how to drive. His main service is painting and sometimes we go out and he paints landscapes. We start looking at learning Swedish. In Summer we go swimming nearby. I teach V how to swim too. On Thursdays we watch the X-Files on a little TV in his room. I wash and iron his clothes and cook for us sometimes. I’m a good Vedic wife and nicely submissive. V has gone and taken over my life, defended me from Brahma sometimes, is now managing me. V keeps me from my friends and after the year is over I don’t think about splitting up anymore.

We have the temple marriage ceremony in summer. My friends do my hair which by now is waist length. I wear a red saree. V is in white, pudgy, shorter than me. There is a fire sacrifice and we have a sit-down meal upstairs.

I get a new service: Transcribing lectures from the zonal guru. I’m very slow at it. I also waste a lot of time playing solitaire. I’m asked to experiment with dictation software. It doesn’t go well.

We decide to go to India. V doesn’t have any money so I work for a month in the restaurant in Stockholm. I get 4000 kronor at the end of the month.

We go to India with V’s mum. She doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Russian. I try doing that walking tour again but it’s different. We have no money so we take the cheapest option for food and eat with the Bengali guests. Sometimes I don’t have food vouchers and the others bring a container back from lunch for me. V takes a lot of pictures of places with his mum posing. This time I get over all my illnesses in the first week and my health is good for the rest of the trip.

After we come back I enroll in an adult education college in a nearby suburb of Stockholm. Every week my confidence is coming back a little more and I enjoy using my brain and talking to people. I flirt a little. There are mostly people from outside Europe on the course, so I move up to the next level after 2 months.

In July I learn that I’m pregnant.

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