In Hanuman's Handsby Cheeni Rao
"I can do nothing more for you. You are now in Hanuman's hands." These are the words author Cheeni Rao hears his Indian immigrant mother sob as he stands locked outside his family home. A brilliant, promising young man who is the product of a devout Hindu family from a long line of Brahmin priests, Rao has been reduced to the life of a homeless drug addict and
"I can do nothing more for you. You are now in Hanuman's hands." These are the words author Cheeni Rao hears his Indian immigrant mother sob as he stands locked outside his family home. A brilliant, promising young man who is the product of a devout Hindu family from a long line of Brahmin priests, Rao has been reduced to the life of a homeless drug addict and petty criminal on the back streets of Chicago's Southside.
The freedoms and temptations of life on an elite American college campus send Rao spiraling down into a hedonistic nightmare of drugs, sex, and crime. Desperate and alone, he is visited by Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god his mother evoked, and comes to realize that this unlikely guide may be his last resort. On his long journey to recovery, Rao is guided by visions of this clever, divine monkey, best known from the Indian epic poem, the Ramayana.
In Hanuman's Hands is a gritty, hauntingly beautiful memoir. Bringing India whole-heartedly into America, Rao weaves his own story of Western culture clash with mythic tales of his Hindu ancestors who served in the ancestral temples of Kali. With Hanuman as his loyal companion, the author finds his way back to recovery at a halfway house run by a mug named Tats and shared by an unforgettable gang of streetwise characters. In Hanuman's Hands is a striking debut from a new literary voice.
Though he was born in America, Rao learned many lessons the summers he visited India -- among them, that he was born into a family of Brahmin priests and was blessed with divine blood. Not quite ready for the unique responsibilities attached to his inheritance, Rao turned his attention elsewhere. Better the new world of intoxication and petty crime than the old one of Kashmiri ancestors and ancient mythology; better an elite American college than a crumbling temple.
Better, you ask? Jettisoned from that elite college, a no-show at drug treatment, Rao stands outside his family home, howling. "I can do nothing for you," his immigrant mother cries. "You are now in Hanuman's hands." Sick, addicted, more familiar with a crack pipe than with the old ways, he begins an arduous journey to wholeness. Along the way, he's accompanied by Hanuman, the Hindu trickster monkey his mother invoked, and realizes with a sickening dread that his newest companion may be his best -- or his last -- hope.
Guided by surreal visions from the epic poem the Ramayana, Rao weaves a story of Western culture at war with his Hindu blood. Placing the mythic stories of ancient India flush with a life of hedonism, Rao navigates seemingly impossible terrain. But with the help of Hanuman, a strange man named Tats, and a halfway house in Chicago, Rao might just have found his way back. (Summer 2009 Selection)
When Rao describes his experiences as a homeless drug addict on the streets of Chicago as a battle for his soul between the Hindu gods Hanuman and Kali, it's easy to dismiss his assertions as evidence of a mental breakdown-even he entertains that possibility. But it's this divine intervention, the culmination of a family mythology handed down over generations, that gives Rao the strength to tackle his recovery: "I'll be straight because that's what Hanuman wants," he tells a therapist. "He'll kick my ass if I fuck up again." The multilayered narrative skillfully shifts between Rao's downward spiral that kicked into high gear during his freshman year of college, his first months at a no-nonsense halfway house and stories from his Indian ancestors. Even readers who have become jaded to the generic conventions of the addiction memoir-criminal acts to support the growing habit, pushing away one's closest friends and so on-will find themselves engrossed in Rao's spiritual journey, from the descent into a very personal hell to the slow climb back. (Rao returned to college and eventually graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.) Wherever his writing goes from here, this powerful debut is a signal to pay attention. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Rao became addicted to drugs at his prestigious college; his father, a gifted doctor from India, could only stand by helplessly as his youngest son took up a life of crack cocaine, petty crime, and violence. Highs, overdoses, and the struggle to recover opened Rao's mind to visions of Hanuman, a deified monkey of the Ramayana (the Indian Iliad), who, despite Rao's resistance, showed him a new way of living. Rich material overcomes the occasional missed beat in this haunting debut.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author
Cheeni Rao is a graduate of the University of Chicago as well as the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He is a winner of the Nick Adams Award for fiction and the Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize for fiction, and has had many of his stories published in nationally distributed journals. His three plays, Phone, Broken Circle, and Islands, were produced by The Asian Theatre Project, and he has had a screenplay optioned by a major Hollywood studio. He is the founder and owner of The Iowa Book Doctors, an editing firm that edits and ghostwrites manuscripts for publication and conducts online one-on-one instruction on the craft of writing.
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I have never found a memoir that I have liked enough to finish until Cheeni Rao came along. He paints vivid pictures of Hindu myths and drug addiction. I was absorbed by page one and contuined to be absorbed to the end. I highly recommend this book.
Junkie Lit, fraught with literary fraudsters, has become something of a cottage industry with its tales of the endless cycle of rehab, relapse and redemption. This tired genre has now found redemption itself in Cheeni Rao's memoir of his own battle with the dark side, In Hanuman's Hands. All addicts have a monkey on one sort or another on their backs. In Rao's case, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is a Hindu monkey god named Hanuman. This not a book that resorts to voyeuristic detail to hook the reader; what lifts Rao's work into the realm of art is his ability to bring you inside his own personal heart of darkness and share his hallucinatory horrors. It's not a pretty picture. Nor is it an easy read; wending your way through an unfamiliar Hindu hagiography with a cast of thousands can be a tough slog at times. But the payoff is worth it.