‘The Guide’ is a 1958 novel written, in English, by the legendary R.K Narayan, and brought him the Sahitya Akademi award in 1960. Adapted into a movie as well in 1965, ‘The Guide’ has been one of the all-time favourites of Narayan’s fans.
Raju’s Life Story
The novel focusses on the life and growth of Raju. Born in Malgudi, Raju was the son of a sweet-shop owner. Raju learns how to run his father’s shop and continues their family business after his father passes away.
Raju is a very adaptable person and becomes whatever people and life want him to become. With little to no professional training, but owing to his knowledge of local landmarks and buildings, he soon becomes a tour guide at the railway station in Malgudi.
Raju’s pleasing personality and his interpersonal skills allow him to win the trust and admiration of those who meet him at the station, hence earning the nickname “Railway Raju’’
Obsession for Rosie
Tempted by the material pleasures like money and comfort, Raju soon finds himself drawn to another source of pleasure – Rosie. Rosie is the wife of Marco, an archaeologist obsessed with ancient art forms. Marco and Rosie visit Malgudi and meet Raju as a guide.
Rosie’s and Marco’s marriage is an unhappy marriage. Marco seems to be unfriendly towards Rosie and dismisses her passion for dance, calling it a shallow profession for harlots.
Raju realizes that Rosie must’ve married Marco only for his money. Taking advantage of this weak marriage, Raju uses his tempting words on Rosie and starts a love affair with her.
Rosie Becomes Famous
He appreciates her dance. Rosie becomes a famous dancer in cosmopolitan circles because of her talent and Raju’s impressive marketing skills as her manager. They both start living together. Raju’s mother does not approve of this and she ultimately leaves the house to go live with her brother.
However, greed takes over Raju, which leads to his fall. Marco sends jewellery for Rosie, tempted by which Raju forges her signature – thinking that no one would be able to catch him. But Marco recognizes this forgery and Raju is jailed for 2 years.
Raju is Free
After he’s freed from prison, Raju is reluctant to go back to Malgudi because he’ll be disgraced there as a former prisoner. He spends his time, confused about where to go, in a village called Mangal, where a simpleton named Velan mistakes him as a spiritual guru.
Velan is fully convinced of Raju being a guru, even when Raju reveals his entire life story Velan’s sister, who has refused to marry as per the family’s wishes, is brought to Raju. Raju successfully convinces her to marry as per the elders’ wishes and hence furthers the idea of him being an enlightened personality.
Mangal villagers soon ask Raju to perform a fast to end the famine that has been severely affecting their village. Since they believe he is a guru, the villagers think that if Raju fasts as a ritual to appease the rain gods, it will surely rain and hence the famine will be over.
Raju Does Ritual
Accepting this responsibility, Raju begins the ritual. Each day, although he remains hungry, he finds within himself a new sense of fulfilment. His body grows weaker day by day, to the point where he can’t even walk without the villagers’ support, but this bodily impoverishment is accompanied by an emotional delight.
Raju’s death is bittersweet and the ending of the novel is not a definitive one but is rather open to interpretation. Raju asks the villagers to take him to the river, where he used to visit daily as a part of his ritual, and there he utters his final words,
“Velan, it’s raining in the hills. I can feel it coming up under my feet, up my legs.”
And then Raju droops down. The ending is confusing because the reader cannot understand whether it actually rains or was Raju’s final “observation’’ just a hallucination – something that was not happening in reality but was just a vision perceived by Raju.
Regardless of the reality of the rain, Raju’s death certainly marks his journey from being a tour guide in Malgudi to a spiritual guide in Mangal.