Elements of Humour, Wit, Irony and Satire in The Guide

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      Narayan’s vision is comic. He is the greatest humorist among the Indo-Anglian writers of fiction. His humour is varied and all-pervasive. We get in his novels the humour of character, humour of situation, of farcical humour, irony, wit and satire. His humour mingles with pathos and tragedy: there is a Shakespearean fusion of the comic and the tragic. Every shade and variety of humour is to be met within The Guide also.

      There is farcical humour in the novel that arouses loud laughter. For example, there is a situation in the pyol school where the boys pry into the house of the master and find him cooking in the kitchen. The wife stands close by and she giggles as she sees the amazed boys standing at the door of the kitchen. There is also the farcical scene in which Raju is abused and thrown out of the station, and Rosie looks at the whole scene from the doorway. Another farcical situation happen when the Swami goes in to have some food, finds the pot empty and throws it away in anger.

      Besides the above example of the humour of situations, we have the humour of character in The Guide. There is humour in the development of Raju the stall-keeper into Raju the Mahatma. Marco is the eternal explorer and is also presented as a humorous figure several times. He would not yield an anna without a voucher, whereas if you give him a slip of paper you could probably get him to undertake an expedition with his thick coloured glasses, thick jacket and a thick helmet over which was perpetually stretched a green, shiny, water-proof cover, giving him the appearance of a space-traveller.” He is an odd, cut-off-the-way character, like a knot in wood.

      Irony and wit are woven into the very texture of Narayan’s prose. At every step we get fine, sparkling things which startle and delight. Narayan has full command over verbal irony. To quote a few examples: (1) “His interest in us was one-rupee a month and anything else in kind we cared to carry.” (2) “The assence of sainthood seemed to lie in one’s ability to utter mystifying statements.” (3) When Velan prostrates himself before Raju he says, “God alone is entitled to such a prostration. He will destroy us, if we attempt to usurp his rights.” (4) Velan says to Raju, “Your present is similar to that of Mahatma Gandhi. He has left a disciple in you to save us,” and the examples can be multiplied ad infinitum.

      Narayan’s irony is like shot silk showing different colours as it catches the light at different angles. His satire is mild and gentle. He exposes and ridicules, but his primary aim is entertainment, and not social reform. In The Guide, he satirises lawyers, government officers, and fake Sadhus and their credulous disciples. Of the lawyer he says: “A case in his hands was like dough; he could knead and draw it up and down.” He presents Raju’s case as a comedy in three Acts in which Marco is presented as the villain and Raju as the selfless hero. The career of Raju provides the novelist an excellent opportunity to satirise the government officers of post-independence India. Just mark the mild satire against the fake sadhus in Raju’s wish: “Raju soon realised that his spiritual status would be enhanced, if he grew a beard and long hair to fall on his nape. A clean-shaven, close-haired saint was an anomaly. He bore the various stages of his make-up with fortitude, not minding the prickly phase he had to pass through before a well authenticated beard could cover his face and come down his chest.”

      The interview between the American reporter and Raju at the close of the novel is also a piece of sustained irony. It is not a Yogi but a 'bhogi' who is being interviewed, a fraud and a cheat is being asked to express his views on a number of questions.

      In brief, Narayan is a great humorist. His characteristic humour does not result from distortion, exaggeration or caricature. It results from an observation of the common human weaknesses, follies and foibles and irony is the weapon he uses to express and ridicule such weaknesses and absurdities. His eyes take on a merry twinkle as he surveys the panorama of common humanity on the march.

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