“The Guide”, by R.K.Narayan is set in a fictional town in South India. The novel is one of Narayan’s most interesting and popular works and is told in a series of flashbacks. The author agrees to the fact that the incident of the reluctant holy man is based on the real life event that he read in a newspaper. Narayan won the Sahitya Akademi award for this novel which was written in 1958.
The story begins with Raju, the hero of the novel, who grows up near a railway station, turns into a shopkeeper on reaching adulthood, but finally changes his profession to become a tourist guide as he feels that being a resourceful and talkative person, he can become a successful tourist guide.
During this time, Raju comes into contact with Rosie, the young and beautiful wife of an anthropologist and scholar, Marco, who is more interested in his research than his wife or her needs, desires, wishes. The couple lands in this small town for Marco’s research into and study of some cave paintings. They engage Raju as a tourist guide for sightseeing. The couple is constantly fighting with each other and this rift in their relationship brings Rosie closer to Raju. Both fall in love with each other and Marco abandons Rosie when he comes to know of their love affair and leaves for Madras. Raju’s obsession with Rosie grows to such an extent that he loses his job, shop, gets into heavy debt, and falls in his mother’s eyes too. She leaves him and the house as she cannot tolerate his living with a married woman who has been left by her husband.
As Rosie is a trained classical dancer and always had an inner craving to make a mark for herself as a dancer, Raju encourages her to start dancing again-something that Marco always hated and never allowed her to do. Rosie resumes her dancing and Raju becomes her manager, thus helping launch a successful dancing career for her. Both start getting a lot of offers for dance performances all over the country and Rosie becomes popular. But Raju starts spending the earned money recklessly and also gets imprisoned for forging Rosie’s signature for a package of her jewels that he gets greedy to acquire. He is sent to jail for two years for this crime.
After he gets released from prison, he stops near an old temple just to relax and rest for sometime. A local villager by the name Velan mistakes him for a saint. Raju does not reveal his true identity to the villager and starts accepting the offerings of food and other things from the innocent villagers. He decides to stay in the village as going back to his native place would only bring back disgrace to him.
Slowly and gradually, he becomes the spiritual guide of the villagers who come to get all sorts of issues resolved by him. They start to trust and listen to him and soon he earns their respect and turns into a guru or god like person for them.
Everything is running smoothly till the time the village is afflicted by a major drought and one of the villagers mistakes Raju’s comments to be a vow to keep a fast for 12 days in order to please the rain gods. Raju has no other option but to comply by his vow. The role that he took unhappily and forcibly in the beginning becomes very dear to him as time passes. He starts believing in his role and feels that for the first time in his life he is doing something for the people, selflessly, out of humanity and not lust for money or any other material goods. The news of his fasting spreads throughout the country like wildfire and a huge crowd of curious onlookers from other places starts gathering round him. As he can no longer take the fasting, his legs give away, he collapses dreaming or visualizing the rain drops somewhere in the hills. The novels ends with a question still unanswered whether he dies and whether the rain actually comes.
The title of the novel is very apt as it shows Raju’s career and life as a guide for the tourists and then later on for the villagers. The novel shows his progression and transformation from aa selfish tourist guide to a selfless holy guide who wants to keep the faith of the innocent villagers. From an unruly, undisciplined, and selfish man, he turns into a thoughtful, selfless, and disciplined person.
The major theme of transmigration of the human soul from the clutches of ‘maya’ or ordinary desires to attain ‘nirvana’ or self realization is amply demonstrated by the author in the novel. Raju begins his journey of life as a selfish man who is smitten and trapped in the world of ‘maya’ or illusion, but finally is able to achieve the path of self realization in the end when he turns into a selfless guru or spiritual guide, doing his dharma, or moral duty assigned to him by God, and worshipping the Almighty.