The title of the R.K Narayan’s novel, The Guide, has a double meaning, and Raju, the protagonist, is in a sense a double character. As a tour guide and lover, he is impulsive, unprincipled, and self-indulgent. After his transformation as a holy man, he is careful, thoughtful, and self-disciplined. It is the journey of a common man from being a charlatan tourist guide to a purified soul transformed into a spiritual guide, ready to sacrifice his life for the welfare of the common people.
Raju, the guide is fated to be a guide by chance and temperament. He never says “no”, gives false information, cheats the tourists successfully and becomes famous as a tourist guide. His popularity and success as a tourist guide brings him in contact with Rosie and Marco; and Raju starts a new phase of life as an adulterous lover and a theatrical impresario.
However, Rosie’s obsession with dance results in alienation and loss of communication. Raju feels bewildered and beset. His love, jealousy and possessiveness motivate him to hide Marco’s book and copy Rosie’s signature. Basically he does not want her to realize Marco’s generosity. This choice of his, ironically leads to his imprisonment. In fact he is so used to playing roles that he does not realize the extent of his act.
When he is sitting bored and lonely near a dilapidated temple after his release from jail, a villager called Velan - impressed by his saintly appearance - is encouraged to unburden himself, looking for advice and guidance. Raju on the other hand is tempted to play the role of the swami because “it was in his nature to get involved in other people’s interest and activities”.
But the affection and devotion of the peasants transform Raju to such an extent that he assumes the role of a spiritual guide too seriously. He even assures himself that he has become an authentic saint. The unshakeable faith of the people of Mangal transforms Raju into an instrument of their will. When he is called upon to fast by his devotees, and thus to bring rains to the parched land, he realizes that, “he had worked himself into a position from which he could not get out.” He makes an attempt to confess to Velan all about his notorious past. But Velan’s rustic discipline towards him is so deep that he refuses to believe him.
Then Raju becomes aware about the fact that something has changed within himself: “ if by avoiding food I should help the trees bloom, and the grass grow, why not do it thoroughly?” For the first time in his life he has been making an earnest effort outside money and love, for the first time he is doing a thing in which he was not personally interested. It reveals the spiritual achievement of Raju. Thus Raju spends his days muttering prayers as a result of his indubitable liberation from his ego, and it is revealed by his words -“ I am only doing what I have to do; that is all. My likes and dislikes do not count”- until on the eleventh day when he collapses with the prophetic declaration that it is raining in the hills. The novel thus concludes in the magnitude of his spiritual gain and the title attains an elevated significance.
Raju is initially entrapped in the illusory world when the materialistic philosophy guides and governs his life. By the end of the novel, Raju attains that selfless state like a saint, which sets the stage for his release from all the worldly shackles. Conclusively, The Guide is the story of the protagonist's journey through life. It is his journey through a maze of illusions and the attainment of the ultimate universal truth. He is transformed into a spiritual leader because he has escaped from the coils of mortality.