R.K. Narayan has been one of the prominent writers in Indian Writing in English. All his works reflect Indian tradition and culture in great detail. All his stories are centred around an imaginary place in South India called Malgudi. The Guide remains one of the best works of Narayan which has been adapted into a movie as well. The book is about a man called Raju and the story moves around his past and present life.
The novel is considered to be the best work of Narayan as it has complexity, humour and gentle irony. It is a Malgudi novel as Raju narrates his childhood making this place the base. It shows that the place has accepted both modernism as well as traditional ways of life.
Many of Raju’s characteristics can be noticed in childhood which come forward when he grows up. For instance, he loves talking to people, loves money, does not like when someone claims his things as their own and wants full freedom to do what he wants. School disinterest him, so does listening to his parents. He is alive when he talks to people and guides them.
The title of the novel summarizes what the novel is all about. Raju first comes across as a guide, then Rosie’s career coach and then ends up becoming a holy man. He becomes the holy man all because a simple villager called Velan thinks him to be a sage due to his appearance. Raju is always good when it comes to pretending and since he does not have many options he becomes what Velan thinks him to be.
The readers, without even knowing the past of Raju as a guide or as Rosie’s lover can understand that the man loves attention and admiration and is self-obsessed. Narayan’s tone is very gentle and ironic while describing Raju as he is the man who is a convict just out of jail and an uneducated person who is not fit enough to become a holy man. He does not have any right to tell stories to people or give them any kind of advice.
Raju knows this to some extent. He has nervousness and hesitation in his new role and wants to run away whenever he gets a chance. He cannot remember some of his quotes and has to make up things. The time of Raju in the place would have been short-lived if Velan was not simple and naive and Velan’s sister had not told the villagers about his power after Raju gave her few advices.
Narayan jumps between past and present in the first few chapters from the moment where Raju is a holy man to his childhood. The novel structure is a bit complex as there is a third-person narration when Raju is a holy man and a first-person narration which is done by Raju to Velan of his childhood. The timings and reasons of these narrations are not very clear.
As we proceed further, some of the major events occur in Raju’s life. The first one is the arrival of Rosie in Raju’s life and the second is the fast observed by Raju to bring rains to the village he is residing in. If we closely observe the first event, Raju is characterless as he does not feel guilty of pursuing another man’s wife and justifies his act by calling the man rude and orthodox and cashes in Rosie’s love of dancing to win her.
Marco’s character is written very well although he is not an active character in the novel his actions matter a great deal in changing the life course of Raju and Rosie. He is someone who is busy in dark caves and removes all the sunlight from his life. This shows his ignorance towards Raju and Rosie’s affair as he is not interested in his human wife but all the lifeless things.
Although we cannot deny the fact that Rosie is very wrong when she has an affair but we cannot deny that Marco has been harsh and inattentive to her throughout their marriage. Though he is very angry and grieved after discovering the affair, his nature makes him treat Rosie worse than she deserves.
Rosie is much more complex than Marco or Raju. Though she appears as a childish and simple lady who loves the cheesy compliments of a tour guide and cobra dancing on the flute. However, she is a college-educated girl and shows since the very beginning that she makes her life choices on her own.
She comes from a dancer family where women are considered low class and public property, but she does not want to feel disrespected and poor. She marries Marco because he does not care about the caste. Although she does not love him but does what she feels right. Her life with Marco is miserable and she knows that with Raju her life will not be that good but it can still set her free.
Raju is attracted by Rosie’s sad story and beauty. He ignores Gaffur and his mother’s warnings and changes his entire lifestyle just to be with her. It is surprising that how can Raju just centre his entire life around her only on the basis that she is attractive and beautiful. He sets aside everything including his work as a guide where he is an expert and there is nothing besides sex he can get from Rosie.
Some of the reasons which might have compelled him to be with Rosie can be that he does not like Marco and wants to fool him, he wants to give Rosie comfort and makes himself needed, he loves to take risks, he wants to add colour in his life as he does not have anyone to talk to and he does not care for the future.
Raju becomes used to his new life as a holy man in the present narration. He nails the part perfectly as an actor letting everybody believe that he is indeed the holy man. He does not want to remain in the village and thinks of leaving it when the village is hit by drought and famine. His quotations and sayings can only satisfy his hunger.
Raju slowly finds karma catching up on him when he makes up stories about holy men and their works. He does not know that his fate will take a turn when Velan’s brother will come to visit him when he is at the height of the villager’s faith where he accidentally talks about fighting and covers it up for elders.
Velan’s brother mixes up whatever Raju has told about fasting that only he can end this great drought through praying and fasting. He can leave the village after hearing these lines but he does not want to leave the village as Raju has lived there for a long time. His thoughts show a marked growth in his character especially at the time when he thinks of telling the truth to Velan.
Raju gets deeply obsessed with Rosie, especially at the time when Marco leaves her and she has nowhere to go but come to his house. He ignores the voice of his conscience and repeated warnings of Gaffur and his mother to not be with Rosie. His store gets ruined and is taken away from him. He also insults a porter’s boy and expects that his mother would save him.
The cave is a pictorial backdrop which is relevant in both past and present situation in the novel. It is also a generalized metaphor for Marco’s ignorance. While discussing a dancing art in the cave, Rosie symbolizes the present whereas Marco symbolizes the past. Rosie is a dancer classically but modern conditions do not allow her fame to spread in a good way.
Her dance has a classical theme which is a striking contrast to Marco’s interest in dead things. Rosie’s independence and sexuality show modernism while Marco’s orthodox thoughts show the past. The cave stands as a symbol of Marco’s ignorance. While Marco goes to the cave for discovering new archaeology or lifeless things his wife Rosie falls in love with the tour guide Raju.
When Marco is busy in the cave, the two lovers find a way to make love. Marco remains in an illusion until it is too late. Marco always remains ignorant of his own choice as he never understands his wife’s mind just like the cave’s darkness.
Raju’s life is destroyed as his interest in Rosie increases. He insults Seth and has to undergo trial for debt. His relationship with his mother gets stained as he forces her to leave the home. His defence of Rosie as a woman of lower caste is right and what his uncle says about her is wrong but still, Raju destroys his life and reputation greatly.
If we look at all the roles of Raju we can easily understand that he is focused on others and not on himself. He is a live example of ingenuity and self-estrangement. When Raju starts living with Rosie we see that there is a positive growth in his character as he does not know anything about dance and music but asks Rosie to pursue them.
Though his interest in her art is because he wants to maintain intimacy with her but he devotes himself completely to what she needs to make her dreams come true. In the end, we see that only Rosie is satisfied with her life as she fulfils her dreams without any man in her life.