The Guide: by R. K. Narayan - Chapter 11 Summary

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      The narration of the story of his past took Raju all the night. He has mentioned every detail of his career, without a single omission, till the moment of his coming out of the gates of the jail. Velan listened to him with rapt attention. Raju had thought that, Velan would rise with disgust and swear, “and we took you for such a noble soul all along; if one like you does penance, it’ll drive off even the little rain that we may hope for. Begone, before we feel tempted to throw you out. You have fooled us. But the irony was that Velan still addressed him as ‘Swami’, still considered him a great man, and promising to keep it all secret went away for the time being. Raju was disappointed, for he now realised that Velan, “will finish me before I know where I am.”

      The news of his fast spread. A detailed account of it was published in the newspaper — suddenly the small town of Mangala shot into fame. People came to it in large numbers to have darshan of the swami who was
sacrificing himself for the sake of others. Each day the crowd increased. Soon it looked like a large fair. Children shouted and played about, women came carrying baskets filled with post, firewood and foodstuffs, and cooked the food for their men and children. There were small curls of smoke going up all along the river bank, on the opposite slope and on this bank also. It was studded with picnic groups, with the women’s bright-coloured saris shining in the sun; men too had festive dress. Bullocks unyoked from their carts jingled their bells as they lay on the straw under the trees. People swarmed around little water-moles.

      Raju saw them across his pillared hall whenever he opened his eyes. He knew what that smoke meant; he knew that they were eating and enjoying themselves. He wondered what they might be eating—rice boiled with a pinch of saffron, melted ghee—and what were the vegetables? Probably none in this drought. The sight tormented him.

      Raju had managed to save little food, and on the first two days of the fast, he could eat a little in the nights. After that his fast was total. Each day, he would stand in the knee-deep water muttering prayers, while the crowd round him was enjoying itself. He wanted to end the ordeal but there was no way out. He still hankered for food, and food thoughts still haunted him. As there was no possibility of his getting any food, and as there was no way out of the dilemma, he decided to face the situation boldly. He tried sincerely to drive away food-thoughts. Says the novelist, “For the first time in his life he was making an earnest effort; for the first time he was learning the thrill of full application, outside money and love; for the first time he was doing a thing in which he was not personally interested. He felt suddenly so enthusiastic that it gave him a new strength to go through with the ordeal. The fourth day of his fast found him quite sprightly. He went down to the river, stood facing upstream with his eyes shut, and repeated the litany. It was no more than a supplication to the heavens to send down rain and save humanity. It was set in a certain rhythmic chant, which lulled his senses and awareness, so that as he went on saying it over and over again the world around became blank. He nearly lost all sensation, except the numbness at his knees, through constant contact with cold water. Lack of food gave him a peculiar floating feeling, which he rather enjoyed, with the thought in the background, “This enjoyment is something Velan cannot take away from me.”

      The crowds continued to increase, and special trains had to be run for the people who wanted to go to Malgudi. People also came by special buses. Never had that part of the Health country seen such large crowds. Officers of Department came to see that there was no insanitation and consequent outbreak of cholera and other infectious diseases. They displayed their documentaries to the great delight of children. Telegrams came in large numbers wishing success to the Swami. The place was soon swarming with press reporters and so the stories regarding the Swami and his fast were carried all the world over. The roads were choked with traffic, country carts, buses and cycles, jeeps and automobiles of all kinds and ages. Pedestrians in files with hampers and baskets crossed the fields like swarms of ants converging on a lump of sugar. The air rang with the music of a few who had chosen to help the Swami by sitting near him, singing devotional songs to the accompaniment of a harmonium and table.

      One of the press-reporters was an American. He was a very busy man. He interviewed the Swami, and took photos of him from various angles and distances. The ‘picaro’ turned Swami had become a world-figure. It is all a fine piece of satire on the credulity of the Indians, and on the techniques of sainthood. As the fast progressed, Raju grew weaker and weaker. On the tenth day of the fast, a couple of doctors, deputed by the government to watch and report, went to the Swami, felt his pulse and heart. They helped him to stretch himself on the mat. A big hush fell upon the crowd. Velan plied his fan more vigorously than ever. He looked distraught and unhappy. In fact, keeping a sympathetic fast, he was now eating on alternate days, confining his diet to saltless boiled greens. He looked worn out. He said to the master, ‘One more day. I don’t know how he is going to bear it. I dread to think how he can pull through another day.’

      The doctors found his condition not very satisfactory; blood pressure is two hundred systolic. We suspect one of the kidneys is affected. Uremia is setting in. We are trying to give him small doses of saline and glucose. His life is valuable to the country.

      On the morning of the eleventh day, the last day of the fast it was with great difficulty that Raju could stand. At five-thirty in the morning, the doctors again examined him. They wrote and signed a bulletin saying: ‘Swami’s condition grave. Declines glucose and saline. Should break the fast immediately. Advise procedure’. They sent a man running to send off this telegram to their headquarters.

      It was a top-priority government telegram, and it fetched a reply within an hour: ‘Imperative that Swami should be saved. Persuade best to co-operate. Should not risk life. Try give glucose and saline. Persuade Swami resume fast later.’ Raju’s life had become important for the nation and it was to be saved at all costs.

      It was with difficulty that Raju was carried to the place in the river where he was to stand in the knee-deep water. He entered the water, shut his eyes, and muttered his prayers. He opened his eyes and looked towards the distant mountains, and said, “Velan, it’s raining in the hills. I can feel it coming up under my feet, up my legs—. He sagged down. The end is shrouded in malignity. Was it really raining, or was it merely the hallucination of a starving, or was it merely the hallucination of a starving man? Did Raju die, or did he merely fall down unconscious? Who can say?

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