Cultures clash as Hindu gods take center stage against a backdrop of modern American drug addiction.
For Indian-American Rao, growing up was a cultural tug of war. He was caught between the gritty reality of Southside Chicago, with its sensuality, vanity and materialism, and the highly ordered Hindu universe of strict religious adherence. With a devout Hindu father who made significant sacrifices to become a doctor in America, the household was a fortress of tradition. “Our lives would never be tainted by the confusion and doubt that plagued the Western mind,” writes the author. “We had been provided a rule book and a script for our lives. Only a fool would disregard a perfect system refined by centuries of pious living.” Unable to reconcile his strictly traditional heritage with his increasingly American identity, Rao became a spiritual vagabond and a chameleon, able to change roles to suit any occasion. Petty drug dealing earned him respect among his peers, but he soon slipped into cocaine and then crack abuse, which served as a shelter from his cultural confusion. He continued to spiral downward, with the next hit of crack becoming the entire focus of his being. Amid the throes of addiction, Rao discovered that he played an important part in an ancient myth in which his ancestors were struck by a curse. Through drug visions, Rao found transcendental powers to evoke the god Hanuman, from the epic poem the Ramayana. But not the “happy little Hanuman…Mine had fists of ill will and steel wool for fur, and he came from the version of the Ramayana where Rama is a crackhead and Hanuman is his formerly rock-smoking sponsor.” He believed that only the protective powers of Hanuman could release him from drug addiction and the timeless curse passed on by his ancestors. Ultimately he found redemption, and he provides a deft combination of drug-addiction and spiritual-quest memoir.
Unraveling through alleyways, crack houses and treatment centers, Rao's story provocatively blurs the lines between myth and reality.