R. K. Narayan | Critical Essay by Bhagwat S. Goyal

This literature criticism consists of approximately 21 pages of analysis & critique of R. K. Narayan.
This section contains 6,101 words
(approx. 21 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by Bhagwat S. Goyal

SOURCE: "From Picaro to Pilgrim: A Perspective on R. K. Narayan's The Guide," in Indo-English Literature: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by K. K. Sharma, Vimal Prakashan, 1977, pp. 141-56.

Goyal was a book reviewer for the Hindustan Times and has published several books analyzing literature. In the following essay, he traces the metamorphosis of the main character, Raja, in Narayan's The Guide.

R. K. Narayan's literary imagination has the same dazzling comicality, the same vigorous mask-stripping as the creative genius of his brother, R. K. Laxman, the celebrated cartoonist. Narayan, however, does not resort to exaggeration, distortion, or caricature to achieve his comic effects. He chiefly relies on a resilient and multidimensional irony to expose the human follies and absurdities generated by a blind adherence to obsolete custom, mechanical ritual, and belittling superstition. He is well-acquainted with the powerful hold of traditional values and attitudes on the psyche of middle-class Hindus and skilfully portrays the subtle operation of vague, amorphous and mystifying beliefs in their lives. His major themes and techniques are defined by the exigencies arising out of the conflict between middle-class morality and individual aspiration and between human endeavour and its unexpected consequences, by his human and social concerns, and by his intense preoccupation with man's need and desire to achieve salvation through the realization of a symbiotic relationship between the individual and society.

The Guide occupies a unique position in the Narayan canon. It is the eighth novel written by him and is an obvious manifestation of his thematic brilliance and stylistic sophistication. In this novel, Narayan seems to be particularly fascinated by the ubiquitous presence of swamis and saints, gurus and guides, charlatans and philistines, cobras and concubines in India's colourful society. With the aid of his characteristic, indulgent humour, he is able to capture the captivating spectrum of Indian life, with all its superstitions and hypocrisies, its beliefs and follies, its intricacies and vitalities, its rigidities and flexibilities.

One fruitful way of looking at this fascinating novel is to see it as a vivid and vitally comic variation on the Kafkaesque theme of metamorphosis. Whereas in Kafka's terrifying story, Gregor Samsa finds himself metamorphosed into a gigantic insect, in Narayan's novel a "picaro" finds himself transformed into a "pilgrim", a criminal changed into a saint. The central experience at the heart of both these pieces of fiction is, however, spiritual. In both the cases the protagonists have been parasites, have always let others decide for them, and have always postponed the claims of the human self, till a stage is reached when these can't be put off any further. But while Gregor's "metamorphosis is a judgment on himself by his defeated humanity", Raju's metamorphosis is a judgment on himself by his victorious humanity. What kills Gregor is "spiritual starvation", but what fills Raju with glory is "spiritual fulfilment".

The action of the novel proceeds in two distinct streams, presenting two different aspects of Indian culture. One stream flows in the legendary Malgudi (a miniature India) with its rich tradition of classical dances offered by Rosie-Nalini and the breathtaking cave-paintings that embellish Marco's The Cultural History of South India. Another stream flows in the neighbouring town of Mangala, where the spiritual dimension of Indian culture is presented through Raju's growth into a celebrated swami. Raju's presence in both these streams indicates the close affinity between art and spirituality in India. Thus Raju, Rosie and Marco become temporal symbols of India's cultural ethos. While Marco's aspirations seek their fulfilment in unearthing the buried treasures of India's rich cultural past, Rosie's longing seeks satisfaction in the creative channels of classical dancing in the midst of an ever-present, live audience. Raju is all the time dreaming of an elusive future till a time comes when he is irrevocably committed to a definite future by undertaking a fast in the hope of appeasing the rain-god. While Marco is a cultural historian of the past, Rosie is a cultural ambassador of the present, and Raju is a cultural prophet of the future. Before reaching the supreme excellence in their respective fields, however, they are debased and tainted by the exclusiveness of their passions. Marco's obsessive devotion to the pursuit of India's cultural heritage keeps him tied down to a sterile, dry intellectualism, affecting his human wholeness. Similarly, Rosie's quest for stardom makes her compromise with the purity of her art, resulting in her submission to mixed dance-forms like the cobra dance. Raju is able to achieve a new spiritual status only when the dross of his unholy desires is burnt away in the fire of self-purification achieved through discipline and rigorous self-control.

One of the basic themes of the novel is the acquisition of genuine humanity by a man through the realization of his human and spiritual selfhood. The novel traces the growth of Raju from a spurious, no-good fellow to a genuine human being. Throughout his life he has remained a fake romantic individualist, only to realise in the end that his one chance of redemption lies in becoming a real martyr to the needs of the people. The pattern of Raju's life is determined by his inability to say "I don't know" under any circumstances. From a petty shopkeeper he becomes a tourist guide, popularly known as "Railway Raju". He is fired with ambition and his fame and reputation as a seasoned guide spread far and wide. For him his new vocation becomes both a source of earning and self-education: "I learned while I taught and earned while I learned, and the whole thing was most enjoyable." Perhaps he would have remained a tourist guide, if he had not met a girl who called herself Rosie and who changed the whole course of his life. The moment she sets foot in Malgudi, she asks to be shown a king cobra which can dance to the music of a flute. Her husband, whom Raju chooses to call Marco (because he is dressed like an eternal traveller) is repelled at the idea and it is obvious that the husband and wife have diametrically opposite tastes and interests. Raju is so fascinated by the girl's loveliness and elegance that he grooms himself with extra care in order to be more presentable. He doesn't find her very glamorous, but her sparkling eyes and dusky complexion fire his senses and he finds himself irresistibly drawn to her. When he takes her to see the cobra dance, he immediately realizes that she is a born dancer. Later, when Marco wants to go to see the cave paintings, Raju is surprised to see him alone. Marco asks Raju to try his persuasiveness on Rosie. Raju is happy to get such an assignment. Embellishing his talk with charming flattery and romantic effusiveness, he is able to persuade her to accompany them to the caves. Raju takes them to the Peak House whose natural surroundings and exotic charm fill Rosie with ecstasy. But when Raju goes there next morning he finds that Marco and Rosie have again had a quarrel. He thinks of Marco in relation to Rosie as "a monkey picking up a rose garland." He is unable to understand Marco's obsessive interest in ancient relics, and says, "Dead and decaying things seemed to unloosen his tongue and fire his imagination, rather than things that lived and moved and swung their limbs." He is bored with Marco's "ruin-collecting activities". Rosie, too, doesn't like to see the "cold, old stone walls". Raju learns that Rosie belongs to a family "traditionally dedicated to the temples as dancers", which means she was a deva daasi (god's maid). Though her caste was not looked upon with respect, she decided to pursue higher studies and took Master's Degree in Economics. After seeing a matrimonial advertisement announcing "No caste restrictions", she got married to Marco. She found that her wealthy husband was more interested in books, papers, painting and old art than in being a "real, live husband". When Marco decides to stay on to explore the cave paintings fully, Raju takes charge of Rosie and soon becomes her ardent lover.

Marco accepts Raju as a member of his family. Analysing the causes of Marco's failure with Rosie, Raju says: "Marco was just unpractical, an absolutely helpless man. All that he could do was to copy ancient things and write about them … Perhaps he married out of a desire to have someone care for his practical life, but unfortunately his choice was wrong—this girl herself was a dreamer if ever there was one. She would have greatly benefited by a husband who could care for her career." Marco, of course, does not have the least suspicion regarding any kind of physical relationship between Rosie and Raju. He seems to have full confidence in his wife's fidelity and trust in Raju's sincerity. He is, perhaps, unable to gauge the extent of his wife's passion for dancing and her sense of emotional suffocation. Rosie can't share her husband's enthusiasm for old cave paintings and other relics. Marco thinks that the very fact of his having provided respectability, security and wealth to Rosie should keep her satisfied. But Rosie dreams of having her own career as a dancer and Raju is able to perceive the intensity of her desire which he fully exploits: "I found out the clue to her affection, and utilized it to the utmost." For Raju, Rosie becomes the only reality in his life and consciousness. He is, however, unable to understand the strange conflict going on in the heart of Rosie. In spite of her submission to Raju, she continues to have regard for her husband. As Raju puts it, "She allowed me to make love to her, of course, but she was also beginning to show excessive consideration for her husband on the hill." Perhaps the strong pull of middle-class morality and the Indian woman's traditional subservience to and worship of her husband as a god makes her feel drawn to Marco. "After all, he is my husband. I have to respect him. I cannot leave him there." Obviously, it is not out of any genuine love or regard for her husband that she wants to pay attention to him; it is just because of the accepted social conventions that she has to do it. She possibly wants to have the best of both the worlds: the name, honour and wealth of her husband, and physical love and fulfilment of her ambition to dance from Raju. There doesn't seem to be any sincere or genuine conflict in her heart, even though she tells Raju: "Is this right what I am doing? After all, he has been so good to me, given me comfort and freedom." When Raju asks her why she doesn't stay with him and take interest in his activities like a good wife, she merely sighs.

Aided by Raju, Rosie begins to practise Bharat Natyam. She reads Natya Shastra of Bharat Muni in order to acquaint herself with the purity of the classical forms of dance. She also begins to teach Raju the elementary things about this dance form. Raju is able to see that Rosie is a very talented dancer, so much so that "when she indicated the lotus with her fingers, you could almost hear the ripple of water around it." He also feels the sublimating power of art: "While I watched her perform, my mind was free, for once, from all carnal thoughts, I viewed her as a pure abstraction."

Things, however, take a sudden, dramatic turn. When Raju interferes too much in the affairs of Marco and Rosie, he is asked to keep away from them. He finds himself in a strange dilemma. Neither has he broken off completely from Rosie, nor does he have any meetings with her. He "never bargained for this kind of inexplicable stalemate." He had got used to "a glamorous, romantic existence" so much that he feels "bored and terrified by the boredom of normal life." He is depressed to think that Rosie will soon go away from his life for ever. But he finds himself in the seventh heaven when Rosie comes back to him. She is highly depressed as her husband has refused to take her with him. Raju soon learns about the cause of her present plight. Rosie had sought Marco's permission to dance because she thought she would be very happy if she could do that. She would like to make experiments in dancing in the same way as Marco had been doing in his field of historical research. This equation between an intellectual discipline and an athletic exercise inflamed him and he said: "This is a branch of learning, not street-acrobatics." Marco told her exactly what Hazlitt says about the nature of mechanical performance in his celebrated essay, The Indian Juggler: "An acrobat on a trapeze goes on doing the same thing all his life; well, your dance is like that. What is there intelligent or creative in it? You repeat your tricks all your life. We watch a monkey perform, not because it is artistic, but because it is a monkey that is doing it." Even this did not dishearten her totally. She asked him to see a dance piece and then make up his mind. Marco saw it but told her that there was nothing artistic in it. But she committed a blunder by saying that everyone liked it except him. She referred to Raju and Marco probed her more deeply about what she had been doing all the time. He was soon convinced of her infidelity and decided to leave her behind. He told her plainly: "… you are not my wife. You are a woman who will go to bed with anyone that flatters your antics."

Now that Rosie has nowhere to go, she comes to depend on Raju. Raju's mother is suspicious of her from the very beginning. She warns her son: "She is a real snake-woman, I tell you." Raju finds himself deeply sunk in debt. His career as a well-known guide has almost come to an end. He begins to apply his mind to the possible exploration of Rosie's passion for dancing for commercial purposes. With a businessman's shrewd instinct he thinks of her as a gold-mine and tells his friend Gaffur: "You know Bharat Natyam is really the greatest art-business today". As Rosie continues her practice sessions, Raju realizes that for her her art is foremost. "She was a devoted artist, her passion for physical love was falling into place, and had ceased to be a primary obsession with her."

Another dramatic turn comes in the novel when Rosie is given a new name, Nalini, and she is introduced as a new dancing sensation. Raju invites the Secretary and the Treasurer of Albert Mission School Students' Union to see the performance of Nalini, so that if they like it they can have her dance recital in their annual function instead of the usual Shakespearean tragedy. The boys are enchanted and say that "watching this lady is an education". And so the meteoric rise of Nalini as a dancer begins. Raju becomes a shrewd impresario, handling all Nalini's assignments. While Nalini acquires fame as a great dancer, Raju accumulates wealth and with that a prominent social status. He is "on back-slapping terms with two judges, four eminent politicians of the district whose ward could bring 10,000 votes at any moment for any cause, and two big textile mill-owners, a banker, a municipal councillor, and the editor of The Truth." Through his intimacy with all sorts of people, he knows "what was going on behind the scenes in the Government, at the market, at Delhi, on the racecourse, and who was going to be who in the coming week."

Raju, however, exploits Rosie for his own advantage and narrow, selfish ends. He says, "I had a monopoly of her and nobody had anything to do with her…. She was my property." And a little later, "… I did not like to see her enjoy other people's company. I liked to keep her in a citadel." This narrow monopolization of her makes her suffer from a "dangerous weariness." Raju had practically forgotten about Marco's existence. One day he receives a parcel containing Marco's book, The Cultural History of South India, in which the author has acknowledged Raju's help in locating the caves. Soon after, a letter addressed to Rosie alias Nalini arrives which Raju opens. Learning that Rosie's signatures are required on a document for the release of her jewellery-box, Raju's foolish impulse gets the better of his judgment and he forges Rosie's signatures and waits for the arrival of the box. What he receives instead is a warrant for his arrest. In spite of the best efforts of his adjournment-expert lawyer, Raju is sentenced to two years' imprisonment.

Once inside the jail, Raju turns into a different sort of person. Perhaps what had happened was all to his spiritual good. He is considered "a model prisoner". He becomes a Vadhyar or teacher to the other prisoners and tells them "stories and philosophies and what not". He even gets to love his life in the prison. Narayan's irony and sarcasm get into full play when he makes Raju say: "If this was prison life, why didn't more people take to it? They thought of it with a shudder, as if it were a place where a man was branded, chained, and lashed from morning to night! Medieval notions! No place could be more agreeable; if you observed the rules you earned greater appreciation here than beyond the high walls." This last comment goes to the very heart of the paradox of freedom. The life "beyond the high walls" doesn't care for the observation of rules—it only brings chaos and anarchy. But life inside the prison gets full appreciation for the observation of rules. Raju, however, is galled to think of Rosie's rise to new heights of stardom and popularity without him. "Her empire was expanding rather than shrinking. It filled me with gall that she should go on without me." Even though a perceptible change has occurred within him, his basic egotism remains. It's only in the end that he is able to conquer it and achieve salvation.

When Raju is released from the prison he takes shelter in an old ruin of an ancient shrine in Mangala, where the process of his spiritual rebirth begins. In this ruin, Raju sits on a granite slab cross-legged "as if it were a throne". Immediately after his release from the prison, he had gone to a barber's shop where he was made to "look like a maharaja". Now both these words "throne" and "maharaja" indicate that this shrine will become his new-found kingdom where he will acquire a new stature, a new authority and a new awareness. Of course, Raju himself is blissfully unaware of any such prospect at the moment. Right now his main worry is not to let his shady past be known to the people. The innocent village-man, Velan, who takes Raju to be a swami, assigns him a role which eminently suits Raju's histrionic genius. When Velan states that he has a problem, Raju asks him to tell him about it, his "old, old habit of affording guidance to others asserting itself". Raju impresses Velan, with his clever talk, but when the grateful man tries to touch Raju's feet, Raju recoils and doesn't permit him to do so. His simple humanistic instinct revolts against this act of debasement. There is a mixture of hard irony and bitter truth when he says: "God alone is entitled to such a prostration. He will destroy us if we attempt to usurp His rights."

When Velan brings his rebellious sister for Raju's guidance, Raju tells him that the time is not yet ripe to think of his problems. With a brilliant broadside on Indian holymen's tricks, Narayan shows how they shift the matters requiring immediate attention to the realms of eternity, as Raju does when he tells Velan: "We cannot force vital solutions. Every question must bide its time." Then exercising a sort of hypnotic spell on Velan's "difficult" sister through a fixed stare, he says: "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." This has a desired effect both on Velan and his sister for we learn later that all his worries are over and his sister has agreed to do exactly as she is told to do. Raju's trick is only to utter high-sounding platitudes before these simple, gullible people, whose unshakeable faith in the miraculous powers of the swami makes them take every word spoken by him as a word of God. With a little application of his knowledge of human psychology which he acquired during his work as a tourist guide and later as a leading socialite, he can create an impression of profundity and greatness on his admirers. That he comes to acquire almost a mesmeric hold on the minds of the simple village folk is obvious when Velan's sister tells everyone about him: "He doesn't speak to anyone, but if he looks at you you are changed." The reputation of his miraculous powers begins to spread all around, but Raju himself is disturbed by his unexpected popularity. Feeling ill-at-ease in his present role he thinks of fleeing the place. But when he ponders over the matter more seriously he realizes that he has nowhere to go and possibly he could not find a better place. Moreover, he has not trained himself to make a living out of hard work. His fundamental parasitism makes him realize that he has no alternative, "he must play the role that Velan had given him."

The deserted shrine occupied by Raju soon begins to hum with activity. It becomes the site of a children's school in the evening, which gives Raju "a chance to air his views on life and eternity before the boys". He speaks to them "on godliness, cleanliness, on Ramayana, the characters in the epics;… on all kinds of things." The elders also seek to be enlightened by his discourse, but Raju cleverly evades it by saying, "All things have to wait their hour." Does Raju really believe in what he says here? Or, is he merely mouthing the mystic jargon of the swamis? Do the events occur in a pattern predetermined by the mysterious Spirit of Time? The spirit in which the author wishes us to take Raju's homilies becomes clear when he comments: "The essence of sainthood seemed to lie in one's ability to utter mystifying statements." Not only this. Raju should also grow a beard and long hair if he wishes to enhance his spiritual status. The swamihood becomes a matter of glib talk and a particular kind of physical make-up. By the time Raju arrives at the stage of stroking his beard thoughtfully, his prestige has grown beyond his wildest dreams. He finds that he can no more afford a private life. "He seemed to belong to the world now. His influence was unlimited." He soon finds himself becoming a multi-purpose swami as he begins to discharge the functions of a medical man, legal adviser, spiritual healer, chanter of holy verses and discourser on philosophy.

Raju's enforced sainthood leads him to a state when he finds it unnecessary to maintain a calendar. Having lost count of time he passes into the realm of timelessness. It is obvious that playing the role of a swami has affected his inner being as well as refined his human sensibility. "His eyes shone with softness and compassion, the light of wisdom emanated from them." He receives so many gifts from the villagers that he loses interest in accumulation. He even protests to Velan one day. "I'm a poor man and you are poor men; why do you give me all this? You must stop it." But who can stop these credulous illiterates from giving gifts to a swami?

Things would have continued to be rosy for Raju, had not a severe drought created the conditions of scarcity and famine in Mangala. The natural rhythm and flow of time seemed to have been disturbed and Raju quickly perceived it. When Velan described the grim situation to Raju, he consolingly said: "Such things are common; don't worry too much about them. Let us hope for the best." Though the doubts and cares of the people are not stilled by these words, they dare not challenge the sacred authority of the all-knowing swami. The continued absence of rains evokes fantastic speculations from the villagers. One villager wants to know if the "rains fall" because "the movement of aeroplanes disturbs the clouds", while the other seeks to know if "the atom bombs are responsible for the drying up of the clouds". This reveals a peculiar aspect of Indian life: the remarkable co-existence of science and superstition, knowledge and ignorance, mythology and weather-prediction. Raju tries his best to console and amuse the villagers with his purportedly solemn but actually light-hearted explanations, but even comforting words and "discipline of thinking" lose their power in the face of a grim struggle for survival. As the fast depletion of the material resources of sustenance leads to harrowing conditions of existence, "philosophical attitude" loses all meaning. When cattle stop yielding milk and fail to drag the plough through the furrows, when sheep look scurvy and bony and when wells and earth dry up, the harmony of human relationships is acutely disturbed. "They quarrelled over the water-hole for priorities, and there was fear, desperation, and lamentation in their voices."

The villagers begin to lose their heads and enter "a nightmare phase". They ask Raju to accompany them and see for himself the dying cattle. When he does go, however unwillingly, he is repelled by the sickening odour emitted by the dead buffalo. He knows that he cannot mitigate the foul smell by "soothsaying" but when he learns that the buffalo doesn't belong to anyone known, Raju offers consolation by saying that probably it was a wild buffalo and was bitten by a poisonous insect. To the desperate villagers this explanation comes as a great relief. But with famine conditions persisting, the village shopman begins to demand higher prices for grain, which leads to his quarrelling with a person who can't pay the enhanced price and soon it flares up into a full-scale battle between two groups, in which Velan is also badly hurt. When Raju, the arch-escapist, hears the shrieks and cries of the fighting villagers, he begins to think of leaving the place: "At this rate, I think I'll look for a new place." The heart-rending scenes of drought and famine leave him cold and so long as he can be fed free he doesn't mind staying there. He doesn't feel involved at all in the suffering and tragedy of the people. He represents the countless fake swamis in India leading a parasitic life. Raju's crass cynicism and heartlessness become glaringly evident when in his characteristic, but grimly humorous vein, Narayan comments: "Personally, he felt that the best thing for them would be to blow each other's brains out. That'd keep them from bothering too much about the drought."

When Velan's brother comes to Raju to report that Velan is hurt and that the two groups are preparing to fight again, Raju tells him that "It is not right." The stupid brother of Velan begins to argue and Raju gets annoyed. Raju asks him to go and tell Velan to stop the fight. "Tell your brother, immediately, wherever he may be, that unless they are good I'll never eat." Velan's brother is completely mystified and he is unable to see any connection between the fight and Raju's food. He promises, however, to deliver the message, but when he actually does so he gives a garbled version, "He wants no food until it is all right." The villagers think that Raju is undertaking fast to appease the rain-god. One of them says: "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." Thus the victims of the great Gandhian hoax begin to feel elated without realizing that if a man's fast could affect the pitiless elements and could produce rains or stop floods governments would have saved millions of rupees spent over huge irrigation projects!

Enthused by the implication of Raju's fast, the people of Mangala forget about their quarrel and decide to go and pay their respects to "Swami, our Saviour." But the person whom they think as their saviour is really an inhuman monster who even now, in the midst of a black famine, waits "for his usual gifts and food". He cleverly extracts the food of his choice from these simple, superstitious villagers. Narayan's tongue-in-cheek irony explodes in full blast when he tells us how Raju managed to relate "some principle of living" with a particular variety of delicious food, and "he mentioned it with an air of seriousness so that his listeners took it as a spiritual need, something of the man's inner discipline to keep his soul in shape and his understanding with the Heavens in order." Even while he discourses on Bhagvat-Gita, the gospel of selfless action and detachment, he thinks of eating bondas. He is disappointed when he finds that the people haven't brought any food for him. When they praise him for his fast he tells them that it is good that they have patched up and that he will take his usual food next day. Velan asks him if he expects it to rain and he tells him what his brother has told people in the village. The village community, which has been feeding Raju and worshipping him as a saint, can legitimately expect him to do this saintly service for the people—a little penance and fasting for two weeks to bring down rains. Raju realizes that he has been caught in the trap of his own smartness. He decides to take his own words more seriously and the first thing he does now is to come down from his high pedestal. "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 asks Velan to give him a day to think over the whole matter. His first impulse is to run away from the whole stupid tamasha. But then he recollects the crowds of faithful men, women and children touching his feet reverently and putting their great trust in him. He thinks that if he could keep food in reserve and be left alone at night, he could come off the ordeal of the fast successfully. He believes that the rains would descend in their natural course sooner or later, and then everything would be all right.

Raju asks Velan, "What makes you think that I can bring the rain?", and Velan replies that they have full faith in what he had told his brother. Even now Raju avoids stating plain truth. He, however, has decided to tell Velan the whole story of his life. He tells him that he can undertake the fast but it will not have any meaning because he is not a saint. When he concludes his story a new day has dawned. Raju thinks that Velan will react angrily to his being an imposter, but to his utter surprise Velan addresses him as Swami and assures him that he will never utter a word of what he has heard to anyone.

Raju's fast soon begins to assume great public importance. Even the Government is compelled to send a commission to enquire into the drought conditions and to suggest remedies. A press correspondent sends a telegraphic message, "Holy man's penance to end drought", and public interest is at once aroused. Daily dispatches are sent about the Swami's fast with detailed descriptions of his penance. Soon the whole thing assumes the spirit of a carnival. Raju finds himself turned into a big celebrity. At the same time, however, he loses his privacy and he feels sick of the whole thing. He wants to shout at the people to tell them that he cannot save them. No power on earth can save them if they are doomed. But he also realizes that there is no escape for him now. He should therefore face his trial as best as he can. This proves to be the final turning point of his life. He begins to think about his fast more seriously. Realizing that the famine doesn't allow him to get any food, why shouldn't he try to live up gracefully to his role? "Why not give the poor devil a chance, Raju said to himself, instead of hankering after food which one could not get, anyway?" This resolution gives him a peculiar moral strength. He begins to reflect upon the significance of his fast. "If by avoiding food I should help the trees bloom, and the grass grow, why not do it thoroughly?" This does not mean, however, that Raju suddenly becomes a religious convert and that he sincerely believes that his fast would bring rains. He decides to observe fast in a genuine spirit more as a concession to people's belief and as an act of self-discipline rather than in expectation of causing a miracle. His whole life has been a ceaseless record of deception, trickery and sexual licence, and now he wishes to confront his naked, real self. "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." Rising above a narrow, selfish individualism, Raju seeks to discover his true human identity through the identification of his fate with that of the whole humanity.

The sleepy village of Mangala is thrown into sudden lime-light. Crowds of picnickers, journalists, thrill-seekers, devotees and all sorts of people begin to converge at this small village. Almost a new township springs around the place. This peculiar feature of the Indian way of life—how people turn even a grim thing like a famine into an occasion for a festive gathering is dramatically highlighted here. Malone, an American T.V.-man comes with his whole paraphernalia to shoot the event. His interview with Raju is a remarkable piece of Narayan's sustained irony.

"Tell me, how do you like it here?"

"I am only doing what I have to do; that's all. My likes and dislikes do not count."

"Can fasting abolish all wars and bring in world peace?"


"What about the caste system? Is it going?"


"Will you tell us something about your early life?"

"What do you want me to say?"

"Er—for instance, have you always been a Yogi?"

"Yes; more or less."

It is obvious from this interview that while Raju makes an honest statement in answer to the first question, his answers to other questions are meant more as a snub to the foolishly inquisitive American. We know that Raju has always been a Bhogi (a hedonist) rather than a Yogi. The whole tripe about the abolition of wars by means of fasting is nothing short of a biting satire on the Gandhian philosophy of fasting and non-violence. Even the Government seems to be more worried about saving the life of the fasting swami than about providing relief to the famine-stricken villagers. The novel ends with Raju's completion of the last day of his fast. Having become extremely weak owing to his fast, he is hallucinated and he mumbles, "Velan, it's raining in the hills. I can feel it coming up under my feet, up my legs," and with that he sags down. It is natural for him to feel the cold water of the river rushing under his feet making his legs numb. The rains, of course, have not come and even Raju's sagging down doesn't indicate that he dies. The fact is that Narayan leaves his ending deliberately open. The coming of the rains would have meant triumph of superstition over reason, while Raju's death would have reduced his entire penance to a glorious absurdity. What is really important at the end is neither the rains nor the question whether Raju lives or dies, but that Raju has achieved salvation and real human status through his integration with the life of the community.

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