Priya Rai was molested by her adopted older brother when she was eight years old. Then life got harder. Much harder.
“Om bhur bhuvah svah,” Priya chants. I’m at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, a ten-acre spiritual sanctuary in Pacific Palisades, California, watching the exotic beauty recite an ancient Indian meditative prayer for inner peace. “Tat savitur varenyam,” she continues louder. “Bhargo devasya dhimahi. Dhiyo yonah. Prachodayat.” To me, it sounds like she just had her wisdom teeth pulled, but the strange words clearly have a special effect on the lady intoning them. Priya Rai looks centered, serene and, most amazingly, happy.
Priya has good reason to look for inner tranquility. Along with being molested, she was gang-raped at 15, an unwed mother at 16 and a stripper/mom grinding her ass for diaper money before her 18th birthday. Priya chalks up this cavalcade of cataclysm to a soul-suffocating childhood courtesy of her narrow-minded adoptive parents, who plucked her out of an orphanage in India when she was a baby.
The Bible-thumping Baptists dragged Priya across the globe to Phoenix, Arizona, to raise her with three other adoptees and two biological kids. The plan was to have one big, happy, Jesus-loving family. It didn’t work out that way.
“Growing up, from as long as I can remember, I felt like I didn’t fit in,” Priya tells me. “I was raised among Caucasians, but I wasn’t one. When I asked about India, my parents would get offended. They would say, ‘Why can’t you be happy here?'”
There was no reason for Priya to be happy. “I was an outcast in school,” she recalls. “The class weirdo. People wouldn’t let their kids play with me. When I got older, boys would make dates to meet me somewhere and then not show up. It was horrible.”