Set in the fictional town of Malgudi, R.K.Narayan’s THE GUIDE is a 1958 novel which describes the transformation of the protagonist, Railway Raju, from a tour guide to a spiritual guide and then one of the greatest holy men of India.
Within the first three pages of the novel one gets introduced to Raju and it grips one even tighter when they come to know that he has been recently released from jail and a pool of question arises in the reader’s mind; why has he gone to the jail? Is he really guilty? Is it a serious guilt or just a minor one? Why does he call jail a good place?
Slowly and steadily these questions (along with many others) are answered and one appreciates the startled comprehension and tremendous relatable characters while gliding through the book.
To summarize the novel, the story is about Railway Raju, a disarmingly corrupt tourist guide, who lives by his wits and falls in love with a beautiful dancer Rosie. More by chance than skill, he seduces her from her husband Marco, a lonely writer who is obsessed with local rock-carvings, and transforms her into a celebrity (stage name: – Nalini) courted by wealthy and influential dignitaries wherever she performs but the story takes a turn when Raju ends up in jail. Well, let the rest of the story remain untold in this sheet.
Speaking of the characters there are many but the principal focus remains on Raju, Rosie and Marco.
The character of Raju is not like “a perfect one”. R.K Narayan creates Raju with flesh and blood and thus Raju has his own merits and flaws. Raju grew up in a poor family struggling with all the odds and thus he is driven always by money (not always but frequently). He is a hypocrite and is extremely possessive though he wears a progressive appearance. But the fascinating thing about this character is that his wishes are driven by his heart. After the death of his father he starts taking care of his father’s shop but eventually fell in love with the profession of a travel guide. But although being a popular guide he took care of the shop which makes the character inspiring.
Rosie, Raju’s love interest is a dancer and Narayan represented the progressive women of India through this character. She is a woman who loves her art and craft and just demands two things; love and freedom which Marco fails to deliver.
Marco is a person who is obsessed with his studying of caves and stuff. He has given Rosie all the worldly desires but attention and Rosie’s soul devoid of love and attention gets attracted towards the charming and caring Marco like a meal towards a magnet.
Now the interesting point is that Marco and Raju has a similarity. Both are possessive but has a soft core deep within.
The course of the novel changes with the change in Rosie’s life. Rosie becomes a star and thus the trouble starts. Misunderstandings started taking place in a large magnitude between Raju and Rosie and Narayan introduces the flaws of Raju on this part of the novel.
One of the important themes of the play is the journey from rags to riches of Raju. Raju was born in a poor family but soon establishes a name for himself as a guide and got popular by the name of Railway Raju.
Another theme which is important is the importance of love. Rosie was extremely talented but she didn’t get any love and support from her husband and thus her talent remained suppressed. With the intrusion of Raju in her life she got the much needed love and got recognized as a famous dancer throughout India.
But the striking theme of the novel is the transition of Raju-from a normal human being to a saint. His meeting with Velan and the uneducated village becomes a turning point in his life. A series of coincidences makes them believe that Raju is a saint and they listen to him with all reverence. Raju naturally takes advantage of this and started living happily but then came the drought. The villagers were tensed and a misinterpreted conversation compelled Raju to go on a hunger strike for rain to come down and this hunger strike gives him an experience of lifetime.
The novel ends with a cliff hanger and some questions starts swirling around your head. Does it finally rain? Does he die? Why does he not go to Rosie after coming out from jail?
The novel as a whole is the life of a person who has his own merits and flaws and becomes a saint; not by will but by fate and the transition happens quite organically.
The novel brought R.K.Narayan the 1960 Sahitya Akademi Award for English and it was also adapted into a Bollywood movie with the same name starring DEV ANAND and WAHEEDA RAHAMAN which won the national award.
The New York Times reviewed it like this: –
“The latest of R.K. Narayan’s pensive comedies is a brilliant accomplishment… In the first pages of The Guide we recognize the charity, the unstartled comprehension, and we settle down to a gracious but knowledgeable evening.”