Character of Raju in R. K. Narayan’s The Guide.
R. K. Narayan’s antihero in The Guide, Raju, explores the complexities of a ‘Reluctant Guru’. His multifaceted career is inevitably controlled by his destiny, as ironically he turns into a true hermit. Through Raju, he tried to highlight the problems and possibilities of spiritual transcendence in a materialist world.
Originally a railway vendor turned tourist guide, Raju meets and comes close to Rosie, and seduces her away from her husband Marco. As she acquires fame as a dancer, Raju as her impresario establishes himself as an influential member of the Malgudi high society. Then follows his imprisonment, and when set free, he continues as a fake hermit amidst the villagers of Mangal, till he discovers in him amazing spiritual strength and turns into a true ascetic. He has a kaleidoscopic, quicksilver personality. Such a dizzying trajectory of roles advocates a wide range of interests and sensitivity. Narayan wanted to focus on the enigmas of human motivation rather than depicting a mere saint or pseudo-saint.
The dominating tendency of Raju is to guide – whether the tourists of Malgudi, or Rosie through her career, or the inhabitants of Mangal. The author suggests this by frequently using phrases like ‘taking charge’, ‘under your guidance’, ‘old habit of affording guidance’ etc. He is affable and articulate, and blessed with “a kind of water-diviner’s instinct” to choose the right word or action in any situation. Simultaneously, he is quite enterprising. Ironically, all these positive qualities fail to overpower his single shortcoming – the lack of judgment. He loves to be admired, and dislikes them who refuse to do so like Marco. Throughout motivated by these self-regarding instincts, Raju’s personal redemption is achieved only when he considers others’ needs above his own requirements.
His success as a guide provokes Raju to consider himself a kind of omnipotent master, able to shape the fate of others if he wants. As the tourist guide, he pretends to know every detail about the sites. He relishes his role as Rosie’s impresario. In the prison, he revels at being “the master of the show”. The humble villagers of Mangal also admire him, believing that he can really control the destiny and “fix it with the gods”. Raju is eager to maintain his superficial importance. He dresses in better clothes for the outing with Rosie, spends money extravagantly to secure a place in the Malgudi high society, and keeps a beard and a long hair to look like a true hermit. He assumes that the best bait for winning Rosie is to show interest in classical dance, and for making fools of the villagers, to create an air of mysticism.
Troubles arise as soon as he begins to believe in his own role-play. Caught up in his own egotism, he fails to realize the needs of others. Never he tries to understand Rosie’s sensitive, introspective nature. Bharatnatyam, to him, is simply “the greatest art business”. Rich with Rosie’s money, Raju begins to feel “vastly superior to everyone”, and ironically resembles Marco when says– “She (Rosie) was my property.” Later when she continues with her career independently, Raju shockingly realizes how his own creation, Nalini the dancer, has outgrown him.
Still, he learns nothing, and repeats the same mistake with the villagers. While he had decided to reconcile to a common swami, uttering mysterious profundities to the people in return of food and respect, they wanted a ‘Mahatma’. Faced with the prospect of a fast unto death, his flamboyance is silenced by fear as he realizes the enormity of what he has done – “he had created a giant with his puny self.”
Early in the fast, he swallows his leftover food on the sly, and yearns to get rid of his ironical state. However, on the fourth day, he resolves to pray for the rain with earnestness. Later, while answering to the American reporter, he remarks – “I am only doing what I have to do…My likes and dislikes do not count”. Clearly it resounds his earlier comment as Railway Raju, but this time he overlooks his own good. Irony reaches the zenith as on the next and final day, he denies the repeated pleadings of the doctors to break the fast. “Help me to my feet”, he only says before collapsing down, and the self-absorbed man finally moves to self-renunciation.
The blending of the two narratives perhaps suggests the reader to judge the character Raju both socially and spiritually. He thus can be distinguished as a ‘round’ character with surprising unpredictability.