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Adrie Kusserow


Delhi, India

The Outer Yama Dharmaraja by unknown Tibetan artist

I was 19 when I asked the beautiful Tibetan man at the Dharma Tours travel shop how to get to Dharmasala, where the Dalai Lama lived. His long black hair glistened like a river. It was the dozens of prayer flags hanging from its storefront, the Tibetan incense wafting from under the door that lured me in. I thought I smelled yak wool, salt butter tea, Buddhist authenticity.

My loose brown hair was streaked with the powdered pinks, yellows, reds and blues of Holi which was joyously rioting through town. I looked like a Deadhead, all hippied and streaked with color. He looked at me like he knew my type, told me his mother was from the U.S., then shut the door, locked it and asked me to marry him. When I said no thank you, he cocked his head and smiled, then laughed, telling me how brave I was, traveling alone. I knew right then I’d be punished. And I was. I never got to the bus station. Instead, he dropped me in a slum of riots, tear gas, fires and men throwing glass bottles. They were using the chaos of Holi to kick some Muslim ass. Across the street, one blue modern bus stood like a glistening whale shifting and heaving. Get out, he said.

I knocked on the bus door, the gills wheezed open. Aisles of male Sikhs headed toward the Punjab, one preppy Western man in a button-down shirt, an architect from Boston.  Silly me, I sat near him for protection, (West against East), til 2 a.m., when his hand creeps up my thigh, his tongue like a clumsy eel in my ear. I tell the bus driver to stop, he gives me his crumbled biscuits warm from his pocket before releasing me to the cold night.

Into nothing but an empty, dirt road, except for one rickshaw driver, half asleep, who wakes and stares, until I show him some money, and he mounts his bike, his back rippling with shadows and snakes as he strains over the potholes. He keeps looking back at me, as if he’s captured a witch, and he’ll get in trouble for this.

Finally, he stops at the town bus station, an empty room with neon lights, flies, biscuit wrappers and one long steel table. Six young men paw my hair while they giggle, intrigued by my blue plastic hair clip. They were boyish and innocent, gentle and kind, teasing each other. So, I stood for them like a mannequin as they turned me around. They only wanted to inspect this lone female alien and the contents of her bag. So I emptied my purse on the table and excitedly they combed through it til dawn peeked through the dirty window.

This is what they don’t tell you about the Punjab in The Lonely Planet, that they waved and cheered like soccer moms as I boarded my last bus, my pockets stuffed with their wives’ spiced paratha. In Dharmasala, more men, monks mostly, whose bulbous egos had definitely not dissipated like fog. Because they spoke English, I hung out with the Western ones, most of them runaways from wealth and chalky white Gods which had only punished them.  They brought no comfort to the emptiness (sunyata) I was trying to practice, the strict meditation I had come to hate. Like them, maybe I was using my practice to kick some Protestant ass. How they loved to snicker and giggle at my confusion, pretending it was enlightened laughter. I was so lonely I would have taken anything pure or kind from them, but nothing was offered except a subtle mockery and more beer. Not one of them ever touched me, but I still wince from the belittlement they doled out, calling it crazy wisdom.

You see, The Lonely Planet doesn’t tell you that under the guise of Buddhism many evil things lurk. That in Shangri La, you have to be careful which men you go to for help, because not all of them are what they seem, especially the Western ones who wait for you to come knocking on their door, crouched like wolves under the hoods of their little red monk robes, their teeth glistening as you walk in and tell them you just want to learn about the Dharma.


About the writer:
Adrie Kusserow is a poet and anthropologist teaching at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. Kusserow has two books of poetry published by BOA Editions, Ltd as part of their American Poets Continuum Series. Poems and creative non-fiction have appeared in The Best American Poetry, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Sun, Prairie Schooner, Green Mountains Review, Plume, Juxtaprose and many other journals and anthologies.

Image: The Outer Yama Dharmaraja by unknown Tibetan artist of the central region. No medium specified. No size specified. Mid-17th Century. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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