The Guide: by R. K. Narayan - Chapter 1 Summary

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      Raju, formerly a tourist guide, has just been released from prison. He has taken refuge in an old, deserted temple on the banks of the river Sarayu and has been there for over a day. He got himself shaved on coming out of jail and after the shave the talkative barber had told him that he looked like a Maharaja. In this way his imposing appearance which impressed people and inspired confidence has been hinted at, at the very beginning.

      As the novel opens, we find that Raju, bored and lonely, is sitting cross-legged on a granite slab on the banks of the river, cross-legged as if it were a throne. He needs some company and so when a simple villager, Velan, comes to him, he welcomes him and asks him to sit down. Velan sits two steps below the granite slab on which Raju is sitting. He tells Raju that he lives in the village called Mangala on the other side of the river. There is something pontifical, saintly, in Raju’s appearance and this encourages the simple villager to confide to him his troubles. He has a step-sister of marriageable age and as head of the family it is his duty to marry her off. He gave her rich jewellery and costly sarees and fixed up her marriage with his cousin’s son. But she ran away on the day of marriage, and could be brought home with great difficulty after a long search. Since then she sulks in a room all day, and he does not know what to do with her. This is his problem and impressed with Raju’s saintly looks, he looks to him for advice and guidance.

      It was in this way that Raju came to know Velan, and it was this meeting which was fated to involve him in endless trouble. He was a railway-guide, the habit of guiding others was ingrained in him, and it always involved him in the troubles of others. Earlier, the habit had resulted in his involvement with Rosie, now it resulted in his involvement in the affairs and activities of Velan and the other natives of Mangala.

      The narration moves backward and forward, in a zigzag manner. The present is dramatised by the novelist, and Raju himself narrates his past to Velan at a much later date. The dramatisation of the present alternates with the narration of the past in the first person by Raju, and in this way past and the present are juxtaposed, the. one serving to illuminate the other.

      It was at a later date that Raju told Velan that he owed all his trouble to Rosie. He could never understand why she called herself Rosie, instead of by any other ordinary Indian name as Devi, Meena, Lalitha, etc. She was not a European or an Anglo-Indian, but she looked just the ordinary orthodox dancer that she was. She wore saris of bright hues and gold lace, had curly hair which she braided and beflowered, wore diamond earrings and a heavy gold necklace. He told her at the first opportunity what a great dancer she was and how she fostered our cultural traditions, and it pleased her. He praised her and her art whenever he could do so without being heard by her husband. He was a queer man always looking like a permanent tourist or space-traveller, and he could fittingly be called Marco Polo. The moment he set eyes on him, he called him Marco, and knew at once that he was a permanent customer for him. The question may be asked as to why he became a railway guide. As a matter of fact, the railway was in his blood from the very beginning, for he grew up in the midst of railways, railway-engines, coolies, station-masters, guards, etc. This was so because there was a small house opposite the Malgudi station. As Raju tells Velan, “The house had been built by my father with his own hands long before trains were thought of. He chose this spot because it was outside the town and he could have it cheap. He had dug the earth, kneaded the mud with water from the well, and built the walls, and roofed them with coconut thatch. He planted papaya trees around, which yielded fruit, which he cut up and sold in slices: a single fruit brought him eight annas he carved it with dexterity. My father had a small shop built of dealwood planks and gunny sacks; and all day sat there selling peppermint, fruit, tobacco, betel leaf, parched gram (which he measured out in tiny bamboo cylinders) and whatever else the wayfarers on the Trunk Road demanded. It was known as the ‘hut shop’. A crowd of peasants and drivers of bullock-wagons were always gathered in front of his shop. A very busy man indeed. At midday he called me when he went in for his lunch and made a routine statement at the same hour: “Raju, take my seat. Be sure to receive the money for whatever you give. Don’t eat off all that eating stuff, it’s kept for sale; call me if you have doubts.”

      And I kept calling aloud, “Father, green peppermints, how many for half an anna?” while the customer waited patiently.

      ‘There’, he shouted from the house, with his mouth stuffed with food. ‘But if he is buying for three-quarters of an anna, give him...’ He mentioned some complicated concession, which I could never apply.

      I appealed to the customer, “Giye me only half an anna, and gave him three peppermints in return. If by chance I had happened to take four peppermints out of the big bottle, I swallowed the fourth in order to minimise complications.”

      While sitting at the shop selling peppermints and eating them also was no trouble to Raju, he did not like his father’s habit of waking him up with the crowing of the cock, and then teaching him alphabets and arithmetic. Luckily for him, some customer or the other would soon come, the father would go to the shop, and his ordeal would come to an end. Then he would be off to play under the shade of a large tamarind tree across the road. He played marbles, rolled an iron hoop, or played with a ball and he hardly knew what time of the day it was, or what was happening around him. Sometime, his father would take him to the town when he went there to make his purchases. He would make him sit on a wooden platform within sight of a shop-keeper known to him, and would go about to do his shopping. Raju would look fascinated at the changing scene, men, women, children and carts on the move around him, till he would feel drowsy and go to sleep.

      From the past, the novelist now moves to the present and the narration is continued through the dialogue between Raju and Velan. Having listened to the problem of Velan, Raju asks him to bring to him his sister, and he would do his best for him. At this Velan rose, bowed low, and tried to touch Raju’s feet. Raju recoiled at the attempt, and said, “I’ll not permit to do this. God alone is entitled to such a prostration. He will destroy us if we attempt to usurp his rights.” He felt he was attaining the stature of a saint. Velan went down the steps meekly, crossed the river, climbed the opposite bank, and was soon out of sight. Raju ruminated. ‘I wish I had asked him what the age of the girl was. Hope she is uninteresting. I have had enough trouble in life?

      Left alone, Raju tried to count the stars in the sky, till sleep overtook him and he lay down on the granite slab under the open sky. He awoke late the next morning and found that Velan was already there with his sister. She was a young girl of fourteen with tightly braided hair decorated with jewellery, which Velan had given to her. Raju told them to go in and wait for him in the hall of the temple. Soon after he himself went there and seated himself on a raised platform in the middle of the hall. Velan placed before him a basket full of dried nuts, bananas, cucumbers and a pot of milk. He was hungry and the gift was welcome to him. So he took the basket into the inner shrine, made due offering to a tall god with four hands, and kept the rest for himself. He then began narrating to him a story of Devaka which showed how by giving to the god, we multiply instead of dividing our belongings.

      The story was told to him by his mother, but Raju remembered only vaguely. As a matter of fact, his mother told him stories every night till he went to sleep. The shop remained open till late in the night. Late customers and his father’s friends would sit with him for hours discussing sundry topics, as the price of grains, rain-fall, prospects of a good harvest Or they would talk of thier litigations, and the talk would go on and on endlessly. His father would not care for his food, his mother would send him to call him in, and when he did not come even then, they would take their dinner together. Raju would then lie down, and his mother would tell him stories of Devaka till he went to sleep.

      Raju remembered the stories only vaguely, and so could not complete the one he had begun to point the moral that to offer your gifts to God to multiply them. So he stopped half-way through the story. Velan and his sister waited patiently for him to complete it. He had many problems of his own to think of. He suddenly felt irritated at the responsibility that Velan was thrusting on him, and said frailly, ‘I am not going to think of your problems, Velan, not now?

‘May I know why?’ he asked humbly.
‘It is so.’ Raju said with an air of finality.
‘When may I trouble you, sir? he asked.

      Raju replied grandly, ‘When the time is ripe for it. This took the matter from the realms of time into eternity. Velan accepted his answer with resignation and got up to go. It was rather touching. Raju felt indebted to him for the edibles he had brought, so he said spacifyingly, ‘Is this the sister you told me about?’

‘Yes, sir; it is.’

‘I know what your problem is, but I wish to give the matter some thought. We cannot force vital solutions. Every question must bide its time. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, sir,’ Velan said. He drew his fingers across his brow and said, ‘Whatever is written here will happen. How can we ever help it?’

‘We may not change it, but we may understand it,’ Raju replied grandly, ‘and to arrive at a proper understanding, time is needed.’ Raju felt he was growing wings. Shortly, he felt, he might float in the air and reach himself on the tower of the ancient temple.

      Velan looked relieved and proud to hear so much from his master. He looked significantly at his difficult sister, and She bowed her head in shame. Raju declared, fixedly looking at the girl. ‘What must happen must happen; no power on earth or in heaven can change its course, just as no one can change the course of that river.’ As we shall see, the words had their due effect on the ‘difficult sister,’ and she went from there a changed girl.

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