The Guide: by R. K. Narayan - Chapter 6 Summary

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      The action now moves to the present, and the novelist takes up the narration.

      Raju had been in Mangala for quite a long time. He lost count of time; months and even years with the activity, Raju playing the role of a saint. “His beard now caressed his chest, his hair covered his back, around his neck he wore a necklace of prayer-beads. His eyes shone with softness and compassion, the light of wisdom emanated from them.” The villagers kept bringing in so many things for him that he lost interest in accumulation. He distributed whatever he had to the gathering at the end of the day. They brought him huge chrysanthemum garlands, jasmine and rose petals in baskets. He gave them all back to the women and children. He had become every inch a saint, and had begun to be called Swami by the simple, credulous people of the village.

      Then his troubles began. One summer there was a total failure of rains. The people came to him with sad, long faces and poured out their troubles to him. Their crops were scorched, their seedlings were dead, their wells were drying up, and the water-level in the river was falling. The earth became drier and drier, and cracks appeared. Then cattle began to die. There was no fodder and no water for them. All sorts of rumours began to spread. It was said that cholera had broken out in some one village and had taken a heavy toll of life, and that in another, cattle had died in hundreds. Raju himself could see that the animals were growing thin and emaciated. Food and other offerings which the villagers brought for him became smaller and smaller in quantity. The people still came to him in large numbers, but the usual cheer was lacking. Rather, they poured their woes into his ears: It was an endless tale of woe, tiresome and sickening.

      Time passed, and still there were no rains. The crops failed, there was shortage, even scarcity, and the local shopman demanded higher and higher prices for his goods. There was a quarrel between the shopkeeper and a customer, and the irate customer slapped him on the face. That night there was a fierce fight between the supporters of the customer and those of shopkeeper. A large number of people were injured, Velan being one of them. The little hay that still remained was set on fire. They planned a bigger battle for the next night. The shopkeeper must be taught a lesson at all costs.

      The news of this fight was brought to Raju by Velan’s brother, a half-witted young man. He told Raju that Velan had been seriously hurt, along with a large number of people. However, Raju could gather that the injury to Velan was not very serious, that there was no need for him to go to see him, and so he asked the half-witted youth to tell Velan to apply turmeric to his wounds, and also that he should take complete rest. It was then that the brother informed him that a big fight was being planned for the night, and that Velan will not rest till he had burned the houses of his enemies. This young man had never before come to the Swami. But now he did come of his own to seek the blessings of the Swami, for he had lost his occupation. He used to take out the cattle for grazing and was paid four annas per head, but now nobody needed his services as there was no grass and it was no use to send the cattle out. He thought that the blessings of the Swami may do good to him, and so he came. Nobody in the village wanted the fight to come to the Swami’s notice, for they knew that he would be angry with them. But now the village idiot had told all to the Swami.

      For his own reasons, Raju did not want them to fight. It might bring the police on the scene, and he might be recognised. So the danger must be averted. So he told the idiot boy, “Go, and tell Velan and the rest that I don’t want them to fight like this. I will tell them what to do later,” and added that he should also tell them that the Swami would not eat, unless they were good. The boy was puzzled, he could not understand what the Swami meant, but was afraid of his long beard and flashing eyes, and so promised to tell Velan what he was asked to tell.

      He came back to the village running, and found Velan and others sitting on the platform under the peepul tree, holding consultations. He did not want them to know that he had informed the Swami about the fight, because he knew it would make them angry. So he told them, “The Swami! the Swami! doesn’t want food anymore. Don’t take any food to him.”

‘Why? Why?’

‘Because, because — it doesn’t rain.’ He added also suddenly, recollectmg the fight, ‘No fight, he says.’

‘Who asked you to go there?’ asked his brother authoritatively. ‘I didn’t but when I found myself there he asked me and I told ‘What did you tell him?’

      The boy became suddenly wary. He knew he would be thrashed if he said he had mentioned the fight. He felt sorry he had ever got involved. It was best not to have anything to do with them. So he covered up the entire business in the best maimer he could think of. They demanded of him again, “What did you tell him?”

‘That there is no rain’, he said, mentioning the easiest subject that occurred to him.

      They patted him on the head and said contemptuously, ‘Big prophet to carry the news. He didn’t know about it till then, I suppose.’ A laugh followed.

      Then he remembered the message he had been entrusted with, and thought it safer to say something about it, otherwise the great man might come to know of it and lay a curse on him. And so he said, coming back to the original starting point, ‘He wants no food until it is all right.’

He uttered it with such solemnity and emphasis that they asked, ‘What did he say? Tell us exactly.’

      The boy deliberated for a moment and said, ‘Tell your brother not to bring me any more food. I won’t eat. If I don’t eat, it will be all right, and then everything will be all right.’ They started at him, puzzled. He smiled, rather pleased at the importance he was receiving. They remained in thought for a moment.

      And so it all began. The irony is that the cause of Raju’s ultimate martyrdom was the folly of an idiot. The story of the Swaini and the fast he was undertaking for their sake spread like wild fire. He was compared to the Mahatma. They said, “This Mangala is a blessed coimtry to have a man like the Swami in our midst. No bad thing will come to us as long as he is with us. He is like Mahatma. When Mahatma Gandhi went without food, how many things happened in India. This is a man like that. If he fasts there will be rain. Out of his love for us he is undertaking it. This will surely bring rain and help us. Once upon a time a man fasted for twenty-one days and brought down the deluge. Only great souls take upon themselves tasks such as this — ‘The atmosphere became electrified. They forgot the fight and all their troubles and bickerings.’

      The drought increased in severity, and the lake-bed and the river-bed were dried. Cattle began to die in large numbers. The result was that the quarrel with the shopman was pushed into the background. But it was not entirely forgotten. They decided that they should appeal to the Swami to arbitrate, and achieve an honourable settlement of the dispute. They came to him in a crowd, but since they were under the impression that the Swami was fasting for their sake, they brought him no gifts and offerings. He craved for South-Indian delicacy called bonda, had delicately suggested on a previous occasion that they should bring the requisite material for the dish, and was much amazed when they all came empty-handed, for he was entirely unaware of the mischief which Velan’s idiot brother had caused. He had not even an inkling of the fact that he was supposed to be fasting like the Mahatma, and that he was being worshipped as the saviour. He could not understand when they touched his feet, or when they compared him to the Mahatma.

      Time passed, it grew late in the night, but still the crowd did not leave. Then he decided to take Velan into his confidence, and inquire from him what the matter was. So he suggested to him to send away the women and children as it was getting late. When they were gone, he could talk more freely to Velan. Then he discovered that he was supposed to be fasting to bring down rains for them, and that Velan had decided not to leave him alone. He would go only when the next morning, the Headman would come to relieve him and wait upon the Mahatma.

      Velan gave a very clear account of what the saviour was expected to do—stand in knee-deep water, look to the skies, and utter the prayer for two weeks, completely fasting during the period — and to, the rains would come down, provided the man who performed it was a pure soul, was a great soul. The whole countryside was now in a happy ferment, because a great soul had agreed to go through the trial. It was Raju himself who had given them these ideas, and now he was caught in his own trap. “He now saw the enormity of his own creation. He had created a giant with his puny self, a throne of authority with that slab of stone. He left his seat abruptly, as if he had been stung by a wasp and approached Velan. His tone hushed with real humility and fear; his manner was earnest. Velan sat still as if he were a petrified sentry.”

      Raju talked to Velan earnestly, even vehemently, and asked him to go away and leave him alone for the night, and that nobody should come to him till tomorrow night. Then he should come alone, and he would talk to him. When Velan was gone, Raju tried to sleep but to no avail. Tormenting thoughts crowded in upon him. He regretted that he had given them the idea; he never thought it would be applied to him. We get a fine piece of satire on saints and sainthood when Raju thinks. “But if he had known that it would be applied to him, he might probably have given a different formula: that all villagers should combine to help him eat bonda for fifteen days without a break. Up to them to see that the supply was kept up. And then the saintly man would stand in the river for two minutes a day, and it should bring down the rain sooner or later.”

      He pondered over various ways of escaping martyrdom. For a moment he thought of running away from the whole thing. He would go to the city, and there none would pay too much of attention to him. But soon he realised that it was not a practical alternative. Someone may recognise him on the way. Then he would be dragged in, disgraced and punished. Then he decided to stay there and so arrange matters that he would be left alone in the night, so that he might eat something. In this way, he might be able to face the ordeal, and the rains might come in the natural course, sooner or later. He decided to take Velan into confidence, so that he may provide him with eatables and also keep the villagers off.

      So when Velan arrived alone the next night, he took him to the river steps, and began pouring his story into his ears. He began, “I am not a saint, pay attention to what I am going to say. I am not a saint, Velan, I’m just an ordinary human being like anyone else. Listen to my story. You will know if yourself”. The river trickling away made no noise. The dry leaves of the peepul-tree rustled. Somewhere a jackal howled. And Raju’s voice filled the night. Velan listened to him without uttering a word of surprise or interjection, in all humility. Only he looked a little more serious than usual, and there were lines of care on his face.

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