The Guide: by R. K. Narayan - Chapter 4 Summary

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      The narration now shuttle-cocks to the present, and the novelist takes it up at the point it had been left in the previous chapter.

      It should be remembered that Raju had given a banana to the shepherd boy and had asked him to go and tell his uncle that the man had returned. The bababab wirjed nutcrackers. The boy went from door to door informing all, that the new priest was back in the temple. The result was that men, women and children came to have darshan of him in large numbers. Raju went over to this boy and that, and asked them about their education. He was told that they were not getting any education at all, for they were needed to help their parents on the fields. Raju was strongly of the view that boys must study. If they could not find time in the day, they should do so in the evenings, after the day’s work was over. He also suggested that the classes maybe held in the temple-hall, and if there was some schoolmaster in the village, he should come and meet him and take up the task. This schoolmaster, a very timid man, came to meet Raju the very next afternoon, when he was still enjoying his afternoon nap. Soon Raju opened his eyes, but his mind was still confused. When the man told him, “I am the teacher”, Raju’s childhood fear of teachers returned and remarks the novelist humorously, “he could hardly control himself and prevent an exposure”, However, Raju soon remembered why the schoolmaster was there.

      The upshot was that the classes commenced in the temple-hall from the very next day. Only half of dozen children came, for they were afraid of the crocodile which frequented that part of the river. But Raju said in a grand saintly manner, “What can a crocodile do to you, if your mind is clear and your conscience is untroubled?” It was a wonderful sentiment to express. He was surprised at the amount of wisdom welling from the depths of his being. He said to the teacher, ‘Don’t be dispirited that there are only a dozen. If you do your work sincerely by a dozen, it’ll be equivalent, really, to serving a hundred times that number.’

      The teacher suggested, ‘Do not mistake me, but will you speak to these boys whenever you can?’ This gave Raju a chance to air his views on life and eternity before the boys. “He spoke to them on godliness, cleanliness, spoke on Ramayana, the characters in the epics; he addressed them on all kinds of things. He was hypnotised by his own voice; he felt himself growing in stature as he saw the upturned faces of the children shining in the half-light when he spoke.” No one was more impressed with the grandeur of the whole thing than Raju himself. Comments the novelist humorously, “It is in this way that saints are made, and Raju was fast moving on the road to sainthood”. The element of satire is obvious and needs no comment.

      Reflecting on the episode in retrospect, Raju himself says that it shows that he was no fool, that he was much wiser than he had ever supposed himself to be. As a matter of fact, he had equipped his mind with knowledge during his railway-shop keeping days. Then he read a deal of good stuff. He needed paper for wrapping loaves of bread and other articles which he sold, and so purchased old books, papers, magazines etc., wherever he could get them. The shop was soon well stocked with this reading material. He got ample of leisure between the passing of one train and another, and he utilised this time in reading the material he had in the shop. He read widely books and papers on a large variety of subjects. He read books on philosophy, religion, on art and culture, and on many a other subject. In this way, his mind was well stored, and this stock of knowledge stood him in good stead when he came to play the role of a saint.

      Soon after the railway-shop had been set up, his father died quietly and peacefully. The end came suddenly. He worked in the day as usual, took his meal, and then went to sleep, and never woke again. His mother adjusted herself to the status of a widow. His father had left her enough to live on comfortably, and Raju gave her as much of his time and money as he could. The old hut-shop was closed, and he began to develop new lines. He himself tells us, “I stocked old magazines and newspapers, and bought and sold school-books. Of course, my customers were not many, but the train brought in more and more school-going population, and the 10.30 local was full of young men going off to Albert Mission College, which had just been started at Malgudi. I liked to talk to people. I liked to hear people talk. I liked customers who would not open their mouths merely to put a plantain in, and would say something on any subject. Students gathered at my shop while they waited for the trains. Gradually books appeared where there were coconuts before. People dumped old books and stolen books and all kinds of printed stuff on me. I bargained hard, showed indifference while buying and solicitude while selling. Strictly speaking, it was an irregular thing to do. But the station master, a friendly man who not only obtained unlimited credit for anything he and his children took from my shop, but also enjoyed the privilege of drawing his reading material from the stack growing in front of my shop”. Soon it was a book-stall, and the knowledge he got from reading, as well as from listening to the talk of his customers made him a shrewd judge of character, and also enabled him to talk in grand, sententious manner which impressed the children, as well as the grown-ups who came with them.

      After this plunge into the past, we are back again in the present and the narration is taken up by the novelist. The children were enchanted by his talk, described the wonders they had heard from their parents who now came with them in ever-increasing numbers. Raju talked in aphorisms and thus impressed them with his wisdom and knowledge. As the novelist tells us, ‘A circle formed around him. They sat there looking on. The children sat there looking on. The master sat there looking on. The pillared hall was bright with the lanterns the villagers had brought with them, it looked like a place where a great assembly was about to begin. Raju felt like an actor who had come on the stage.”

      Then Velan suggested that he should give them a discourse so that they might have the benefit of his wisdom. Raju did not know what to talk about, but it was obvious that he must play the part expected of him. He thought and thought and racked his brain for a suitable subject, while his audience waited patiently. After a long brooding silence, he spoke out sententiously, ‘All things have to wait their hour”, and after a brief silence added grandly, “I will speak to you when another day comes”. He then advised them to recollect and reflect upon every word they had uttered during the day. When they said that they did not recollect what they had said during the day, Raju remarked wisely, “When you don’t remember your own words properly, how are you going to remember other people’s words?” This amused them and silenced them for the moment. But then somebody asked, ‘And why do you ask us to recollect all that we have said since day-break?’

      Raju himself was not certain why he had advised that, and so he added, ‘if you do it you will know why’. The essence of sainthood seemed to lie in one’s ability to utter mystifying statements, ‘Until you try, how can you know what you can or cannot do?’ he asked. He was dragging those innocent men deeper and deeper into the bog of unclear thoughts.

      ‘I can’t remember what I said a few moments ago; so many other things come into one’s head,’ stated one of his victims.

      ‘Precisely. That is what I wish to see you get over’, said Raju. ‘Until you do it, you will not know the pleasure of it.’ He picked out three men from the gathering. ‘When you come to me tomorrow or another day, you must each repeat to me at least six words that you have been speaking since the morning. I am asking you to remember only six words’, he said pleadingly as a man who was making a great concession, ‘not six hundred’.

      ‘Six hundred! Is there anyone who can remember six hundred, sir?” asked some one with wonder.

      ‘Well, I can,’ said Raju. And he got appreciative clicking of tongues which he expected as his legitimate due. Soon the children were there, a great boon to Raju, who rose from his seat as if to say, ‘That is all for the day’, and walked towards the river, the others following. ‘These children must be feeling sleepy. Take them safely home, and come again’.

      When they met the next day, he provided them with a specific programme. He chanted a song with a refrain, which was repeated by his audience. The hall echoed with their chanting. His fame grew. Soon women also began to come. They washed the floor of the hall, and decorated it with flowers and buntings. A carpet was spread on the platform which was his seat. Raju began to grow a beard, for he realised that a beard would enhance his spiritual status. Soon he had a beard long enough for him to stroke from time to time during a discourse. He also grew long, flowing hair which covered his neck. He looked every inch a sadhu, and also talked like one. His audience went on increasing, over-flowed the hall, and the outer corridors, and people sat right up to the river’s edge.

      His influence now was unlimited. He not only chanted holy verses and discoursed on philosophy, he even came to the stage of prescribing medicine; children who would not sleep peacefully at night were brought to him by their mothers; he pressed their bellies and prescribed a herb, adding, ‘If he still gets no relief, bring him again to me’. It was believed that when he stroked the head of a brought to him their disputes and quarrels, over the division of ancestral property. He had to set apart several hours of his afternoon for these activities. He could hardly afford a private life now. There came a stage when he had to be up early and rush through all his own personal routine before his visitors should arrive. It was strain upon him, and he yearned for a quiet, peaceful life.

      It was in this way that “Railway Raju” acquired the status of a saint.

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