The Guide: by R. K. Narayan - Chapter 9 Summary

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      Rosie’s performance in the Albert College function was the beginning, and then she soared rocket-like. At the time Raju thought proudly that it was all his doing, it was he who had made her such a grand success, but later on, in retrospect he realised that Rosie would have achieved success, name and fame, even without him. There was talent in her, she was a genius, and nothing could suppress her. As he tells Velan, “Her name became public property. It was not necessary for me to elaborate or introduce her to the public now. The very idea would be laughed at. I became known because I went about with her, not the other way round. She became known because she had the genius in her, and the public had to take notice of it. I am able to speak soberly about it now—only now. At that time I was puffed up with the thought of how I had made her. I am now disposed to think that even Marco could not have suppressed her permanently. Sometime she was bound to break out and make her way. Don’t be misled by my present show of humility; at the time there was no limit to my self-congratulation. When I watched her in a large hall with a thousand eyes focused on her, I had no doubt that people were telling themselves and each other, ‘there he is, the man but for whom.’ And I imagined all this adulation lapping around my ears like wavelets. In every show I took, as a matter of right, the middle sofa in the first row. I gave it out that that was my seat wherever I might go, and unless I sit there Nalini would be unable to perform. She needed my inspiring presence. I shook my head discreetly; sometimes I lightly tapped my fingers together in timing. When I met her eyes, I smiled familiarly at her on the stage. Sometimes I signalled her a message with my eyes and fingers, suggesting a modification or a criticism of her performance. I liked the way the president of the occasion sat next to me, and leaned over to say something to me. They all liked to be seen talking to me. They felt almost as gratified as if they spoke to Nalini herself. I shook my head, laughed with restraint, and said something in reply, leaving the watching audience at our back to guess the import of our exchanges, although actually it was never anything more than, “The hall seems to have filled.”

      Their engagements multiplied, and they were paid whatever they demanded. Engagements were finalised three or four months in advance. They went to every corner of South India, and wherever Rosie performed she drew packed house and it was heartily applauded and cheered. Raju managed all her affairs. She was devoted to her art, and cared for nothing else. He opened an account in her name, for he was afraid that if the money was in his name it would be attached by the Seth. As it was, he scored a point of law, and it became necessary for them either to pay rent to the Seth, if they continued to live in it or to shift to some other house. Raju preferred the other alternative. As it was, their needs were growing, so many people were constantly pouring for business purposes, and the circle of their friends was widening. So he rented a much larger house, had a number of servants and also engaged a Secretary called Mani. Up to this time they had used Gaffur’s taxi, but now he got a car of his own. All the district officials, the police officers and other prominent people of the city were among his friends, and he could get anything done without difficulty. He entertained them lavishly, drank and played cards with them. Rosie lived in the dream-world of art, and knew nothing about practical side of her affairs. They were earning a lot, but God alone knew where all the money went. Their lavish style of living was consuming all her earning. In this connection Raju tells Velan, “The stylish house at New Extension was more in keeping with our status. It was two-storeyed, with a large compound, lawns, garden and garage. On the upper floor we had our bedroom; and a large hall where Nalini practised her dances. lt was carpeted with a thick, deep blue, spun-silk carpet at one end, leaving a space of marble tiles for her to dance on. I had managed to fix up a pedestal and bronze image of dancing Nataraja in one corner. It was her office. I had now a permanent group of musicians - five of them: a flutist, a drummer, etc. She had a ‘dance-master’ whom I discovered in Koppal: a man who had steeped himself in the traditional dance for half a century and lived in his village home. I ferreted him out and brought him over to Malgudi and gave him an outhouse in our compound to live in. All kinds of people were always passing in and out of our house. I had a large staff of servants—a driver for our car, two gardeners for the garden, a Gurkha sentry at the gate with a dagger at his waist, and two cooks because our entertainments were beginning to grow. As I have said, a miscellaneous population was always passing in and out of the compound: musicians, their friends, those that came to see me by appointment, the servants, their friends and so on. On the ground floor I had an office with a secretary-in-waiting, a young graduate from the local college, who dealt with my correspondence.

      Gradually, Rosie began to suffer from-fatigue and felt bored and tired. Gradually arguments began to crop up between us, and that, I said, put the final husband-wife touch on our relationship. Her circle was widening. Artists of the first and second rank, music-teachers, dilettantes of the town, school girls who wanted ideas for their school functions, all kinds of people asked to see her. Wherever possible I turned them back, but if they managed to slip through and get upstairs, I could do nothing about it. Nalini kept them for hours and would hardly let them go back. Raju did not like this, for he was afraid she would reveal their business-secrets. Moreover he wanted to keep her entirely dependent upon himself, and constantly to make her feel that she would be helpless without him. He liked to keep her, as it were in a citadel.

      They lived a kind of mechanical life day in and day out. The same receptions at the station, fussy organisers, encounters, and warnings, the same middle sofa in the first row, speeches and remarks and smiles, polite conversation, garlands and flash photos, congratulations, and off to catch the train—pocketing the most important thing, the cheque. Raju demanded enormous fees and always got what he demanded. Rosie went through her engagements with a touch of resignation rather than with her earlier enthusiasm. She was so happy earlier, even in the most adverse circumstances but now that cheerful contentment, that laughing brightness of eyes was no more. She cared more for the garland that she got after every peformance, and not for the cheque which they got with the flowers. What was the use of the cheque when they could not go anywhere and enjoy themselves, as they used to do in the past. There were all name and fame, and all physical comforts, but no inner or spiritual contentment. The novelist has thus stressed that hollowness of material wealth.

      Some dangerous weariness seemed to be coming over her. “However, all went well till one day a book entitled the Cultural History of India arrived by post. It was a gorgeous book costing twenty rupees, and was obviously an eminent work on the subject. Marco was its author; it was addressed to him but was in reality meant for Rosie. Mani brought it to him as he handled all the post, both hers and his own. It was about Memphi caves and the light they threw on the cultural history of India. Like a gentleman, Marco had acknowledged his indebtedness to Raju in the following words. “The author is obliged to acknowledge his debt to Sri Raju of Malgudi Railway Station for his help.”

      Everything would have been well, if he had shown the book to Rosie. But he was afraid that the book would remind her of husband. She would advise him, think him very good and kind, and may feel inclined to return to him. Raju brooded long and deep over the matter, and finally deaded to conceal the book in his wine closet, behind the wine bottles. There it would be entirely safe from prying eyes. Thus the leap into the dark was made, and the first false step was taken. Raju himself tells Velan, “But it was like hiding a corpse. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing in this world can be hidden or suppressed. All such attempts are like holding an umbrella to conceal the sun. Three days later Marco’s photograph appeared in The Illustrated Weekly of Bombay, on the middle page. The Illustrated Weekly was one of the papers Nalini always read—it was full of wedding pictures, stories, and essays she enjoyed. The photograph was published along with a review of his book, which was called An epoch-making discovery in Indian Cultural History’. She at once came to Raju. She thrust the page before me and asked, “Did you see that?”

I showed appropriate surprise and told her, ‘Calm yourself. Sit down.’

‘This is really great. He worked for it all his life. I wonder what the book is like.’

‘Oh, it’s academic. We won’t understand it. For those who care for such things, it must seem interesting.’

‘I want so much to see the book, can’t we get it somewhere?’ She suddenly called my secretary, an unprecedented act on her part.

‘Mani,’ she said and held the picture up to him, ‘you must get me this book.’

He came nearer, read the passage, brooded for a moment, looked at me, and said, ‘All right, madam.’

      I hurriedly told him, ‘Hurry up with that letter, and go in person to the post office and remember to add a late fee.’ He was gone. She still sat there. Unless she was called to meet visitors, she never came downstairs. What was this agitation that made her do these things? I wondered for a moment whether I ought not to bring the book out to her. But she would ask me for so many explanations. I simply suppressed the whole thing. She returned upstairs to her room. I noticed later that she had cut out the photo of her husband and placed it on her dressing mirror. I was rather shocked. I wanted to treat it as a joke, but could not find the right words, and so left it alone. I only averted my eyes when I passed the dressing mirror.

      Within three days she came to know that Raju had received the book, and had concealed it from her. Mani must have told her, and so he decided to have his revenge upon him at the first opportunity. In the middle of the night she sat up and inquired where he had hidden the book, and why he had done so. There were arguments and counter-arguments, and the usual tears. After all he was her husband, and he was kind to her, for any husband under the circumstances would have throttled her then and there, but he. tolerated her company for nearly a month. Raju tells Velan, “I felt bewildered and unhappy. I didn’t understand her sudden affection for her husband. What was this sudden mood that was coming over her? I did my best for her. Her career was at his height. What was it that still troubled her? Could I get at it and find a remedy? I had been taking too much for granted in our hectic professional existence.

‘We must go on a holiday somewhere,’ I said.

‘Wher?’ she asked in a business-like manner.

I was taken abaek, Where? Anywhere, Somewhere’.

‘We are always going somewhere. What difference is it going to make?’

‘We’ll go and enjoy ourselves on our own, without any engagement?

      ‘I don’t think it’s going to be possible until I fall sick or break my thigh bone’, she said and giggled viciously. “Do you know the bulls yoked to an oil-crusher — they keep going round and round, in a circle, without a beginning or an end?” The very thought of dancing made her sick; she felt like a monkey performing at village fairs. At this he laughed, his laughter proved infections, and soon all her gloom and misgivings exploded in laughter.

      Their life fell into the same old routine after this little disturbance. Then came the letter from Marco’s lawyer which caused the big explosion. Mani was on leave for a couple of days, and Raju himself was attending to all the correspondence. Suddenly, he came upon a letter addressed to Rosie, alias Nalini. The letter arrived by registered post a few days ago, and Mani had received it. Since then it had been lying on the table. His first impulse was to deliver the letter to her, but on second thoughts he decided to open the seal and read it. The letter said, “Madam, under instruction from our client, we are enclosing an application for your signature for the release of a box of jewellery left in safe custody at the Bank the market place. After this is received we shall proceed to obtain the other signature as well, since you are aware that the deposit is in your joint names, and obtain the release of the said box and arrange to forward it to you under insurance cover in due course.”

      I was delighted. So this was going to bring in more jewellery for her? Of course she would be elated. But how big was the box? What were the contents worth? These were questions that agitated my mind for a while. I looked through the letter for some clue; but the lawyer was sparing of words. I took the letter and turned to go and give it to her. But on the staircase I paused. I returned to my room and sat in my chair, thinking. ‘Well, let me think it over. Where is the hurry?’ I asked myself, ‘She has waited for this box so long. Just a couple of days more do not matter. Anyway, she never mentioned it, perhaps she doesn’t care.’ I took the letter to my drink casket and locked it up. A good thing, Mani was not there. Otherwise, he might have created a mess.

      So Raju was guilty of another false step. It was treachery and duplicity. The letter constantly haunted him. In the evening while Rosie was still busy practising, he opened the letter and read it once again, I looked at the enclosed application. It was on a printed form; after her signature was going to be Marco’s. What was the man’s purpose in sending it now? Why this sudden generosity to return her an old box? Was he laying a trap for her, or what was it? Knowing the man as I did, I concluded that it might not be anything more than a correct disposal of his affairs, similar to his acknowledgment of my help in his book. He was capable of cold, machine-like rectitude; his vouchers were in order; he saw probably no sense in being responsible for Rosie’s box any more. Rightly, too. The right place for Rosie’s was here. But how to release it? If Rosie saw this letter she would do God knew what. I had a fear that she would not view it calmly, in a business-like manner. She would in all likelihood lose her head completely. She was likely to place the wildest interpretation on it and cry out, ‘See how noble he is’ and make herself miserable and spoil for a fight with me. There was no knowing what would set off the trigger nowadays. His mere photo in the illustrated Weekly drove her crazy: after that book incident I was very careful. I never showed her the book at all.

      Raju constantly brooded over the letter, and the upshot was that he practised Rosie’s signature, and then carefully wrote at the appropriate place on the form Rosie-Nalini. Early the next morning, he personally took it to the post office and despatched it by registered post. He felt safe for no one, not even Mani, knew about the matter. Then he waited eagerly for the arrival of the insured parcel, and constantly inquired from Mani, if any insured parcel had arrived, and his reply was always in the negative. Days and weeks passed, and there was no insured parcel. Perhaps, Marco wanted to keep the box to himself and it was all a cunning trick to get Rosie’s signature. But he would never allow him to do so. The lawyer’s letter was with him, and it was sufficient to bring him to book.

      Then one evening during a large-scale function for the benefit of a maternity home, one of the organisers came up to him and quietly told him, “you are wanted, sir.” It was the District Superintendent of Police who wanted him. He was his close friend, and Raju was waiting for his arrival, but he could not understand why he wanted to see him outside. When Raju came out he whispered to him, I’m awfully sorry to say this, but I’ve a warrant for your arrest. It has come from headquarters.’

      He pulled out a paper. Yes, it was a true and good warrant for my arrest on a complaint from Marco, the charge being forgery. When I stood ruminating, the Inspector asked, ‘Did you sign any recent documents for—the lady?’

‘Yes, she was busy. But how can you call that forgery?’

‘Did you write “For” or just write her name?’ He piled me with questions. ‘It’s a serious charge,’ he said. ‘I hope you will put through, but for the moment I have to take you in custody.’

I realised the gravity of the situation. I whispered, ‘Please don’t create a scene now. Wait until the end of the show, and till we are back home?

      On reaching home, he had first to explain everything to Rosie. “She listened to me as if I were addressing a stone pillar. Even now I can recollect her bewildered, stunned expression as she tried to comprehend the situation. I thought she would break down. She often broke down on small issues, but this seemed to leave her unperturbed. She merely said, ‘I felt all along you were not doing right things. This is karma. What can we do?’ She came out to the landing and asked the officer, ‘What shall we do about it, sir? Is there no way out?’

      At the moment I have no discretion, madam, It’s non-bailable warrant. But perhaps tomorrow you may apply for reconsideration of bond. But we can do nothing till tomorrow, till it’s moved before the magistrate.’ He was no longer my friend, but a frightful technician.

      There is an element of the picaresque in the novel, and Raju is the ‘Picaro’. It recounts his varied adventures, his roguery and his ultimate downfall.

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