The Guide - by R. K. Narayan


P - 379

Date - 19 MAR 24

Narrative Art

Two hundred years of English colonial rule have left many indelible marks on the minds and cultures of Indians. One of its laudatory features is the emergency of the literary activities of the urban educated Indians in the English language. The Indo-Anglian literature is the product of this literary phenomenon out of which artists like Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao of the pre-Independence era and Vikram Seth, Upamanyu Chatterjee and Amitava Ghosh of the Post-Independence era come to the fore. All of them are highly regarded novelists. Among them we here discuss R.K. Narayan’s literary acumen through his illustrious novel The Guide (1958).

It has been a common term of abuse against the Indo-Anglian literary artists that their works need more matured handling of the subject than they have been able to do especially the narrative style and technique of them are much below the satisfactory level than their European or American counterparts. However, such a clichéd charge seems almost meaningless when viewed through The Guide.

In the novel we find two different planes of narrative of a single story that are broken at a certain point. The story evolves or revolves around a high-sounding fraud cum impostor turned ascetic – Raju of Malgudi, a place of Narayan’s imagination, nearby Madras in Southern India. The adventure of Raju from an ordinary shop-keeper’s son to the glamorous tourist guide who seduces a married woman-Rosie to transform her into a professional stage-dancer by becoming her career manager and lands in jail for forging her signature for her jewellery. He remained there for two years of rigorous imprisonment. After his release he came to a new village – Mangala - to start his life afresh. The first part of Raju’s journey ends here. From here the second part of his life – the sadhu or ascetical Raju began.

In the second part of the story, we find Raju how by his sheer mannerisms, suave manipulation and acute knowledge of human psyche he breaks open the gates of the easy, friendly, and gullible villagers' minds through Velan – a typical rustic character with all the representative qualities of an Indian villager. Raju starts solving the various problems of the villagers, arranges story sessions for them, makes place for an evening school for children at the dilapidated temple where he took refuge, grows long hair and beard, wears a necklace of prayer beads, and makes erroneous but highly philosophic statements to beguile the villagers. In exchange for it, he gets a sumptuous lunch and dinner from the villagers. But this make-believe system of mystification breaks its garbs when the villagers mistakenly think Raju is doing perpetual fasting for twelve consecutive days to bring forth rains. Raju tries to break this wrong notion of the villagers fabricated by himself to prevent himself from utter suicide. But seeing the futility of the effort, he mustered up courage and conviction to do the job. He went without food for eleven consecutive days to be sagged down at last. His end shrouded in mystery.

The story is divided into eleven chapters. Among them, chapters 3,5,7,8,9 and 10 deal entirely with the life story of Raju up to his imprisonment. Chapters 6 and 11 deal with his present life which begins after his coming to the village Mangala after his release from jail. Especially, chapter 11 marks the end of the story. The rest ones – chapters 1,2, and 4 describe side-by-side the present and past life of Raju. Thus, Narayan takes up the challenge of mixing the time of the various incidents in the story giving a new intricate narrative. But being a traditionalist by disposition Narayan never alters the chronological patterns of the story. He may start with a late incident in Raju’s life and then come to an earlier story about him. But if we give them numbers as such to denote their chronology, he writes the eleventh story of Raju’s life to be followed by the twelfth one even when the stories are interpolated by the earlier stories of Raju. That is why the story opens with the tenth phase of Raju’s life – his coming of Mangala – to be followed by the first phase – the childhood of Raju and then succeeded by the eleventh phase of Raju – sorting out the domestic problem of Velan’s trouble-making sister concerning her marriage. There is a unique pattern of narration that Narayan adopts here that attracts much acclaim from the readers and the critics.

The separate narrator for the separate part is another interesting phenomenon in the story. Raju's present is treated in a dramatic manner where the omnipotent, omniscient author introduces Raju amidst the action. But Raju himself becomes the speaker when his past comes to the fore giving an epic style of narration. Here we may cite two examples to illustrate this point. The third person narration of the author keeping himself off scene is heard at the very beginning of the novel: -

“Raju welcomed the intrusion – something to relieve the loneliness of the place. The man stood gazing…”

Now another example of literary technique of Narayan shows Raju as the speaker in the following lines: -

"My troubles would not have started… but for Rosie. Why did she call herself Rosie? She did not come from a foreign land...”

Here Raju speaks of his own life story almost in as detached a tone as the author. His ability to withdraw himself from a situation shows his strength.

This narrative pattern allows Narayan as well as Raju to deal with an ironic undertone while exposing the true colour of their protagonist’s mind. Interestingly the person concerned here is an identical man, Raju.

When Raju in his probation of his ascetic career tells Velan – “If you show me a person without a problem, then I’ll show you the perfect world” the author smiles at the high-sounding words of Raju keeping his tongue in check. And Raju himself speaks with a similar vein tone while narrating his skill of choosing the perfect tourist – “I could let a man have a peep at it or a whole panorama. It was adjustable. I could give them a glimpse of a few hours or soak them in mountain and river scenery or archaeology for a whole week. I could not really decide how much to give or withhold until I knew how much cash the man carried or, if he carried a cheque book, how good it was (Chapter – 5)

So, in Narayan’s The Guide the narrative treatment of the story holds the key to interest. The way Raju is introduced, the way Raju deciphers himself the way the conversation between people goes on and the lucidity of the diction that catches the readers at once only project the master-narrator in Narayan. Raju is interesting study material, but his interest in life and in men through the narration of Narayan takes the novel to a unique height of critical appreciation. Narayan proves that Indians are basically the best storytellers.

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