The Guide by RK Narayan

With December comes the season where I spend more time in airports waiting for the boarding, or in the air in the flights or, in the long immigration queues. I have never been a great fan of watching movies in flight with the scrappy infotainment systems in the coach class. So I always carry one of my favorite books for the journey or pick one up from the airport book stores to ensure that I do not spend hours staring at nothing in the flight.

It is during one of these December journeys that the RK Narayan book “The Guide” became my sole companion for the 20 hour flight to Chicago from Bangalore via Delhi. With my prior experience with Air India infotainment system, I was pretty sure that the only respite for the long leg from Delhi to Chicago would be this book. The subtle cover and the fact that I was only scouring the Indian authors section in the store lead me to this author who never fails to impress with his literary acumen. Despite the name of our blog, I always prefer a hard copy of the books as opposed to the kindle version of it. The turn of pages, the smell of new books and that feeling when you turn to the first and then last page has always kept me a hard copy buyer. So cooped up in the Air India flight from Delhi to Chicago and fitting my long limbs into the space available, I started turning the pages of this book.

The Guide

Author: RK Narayan

Publisher : Modern Classics

Pages : 203

Format  : Soft Cover

Kindleandkompass rating : 4/5

The book begins with a character introduction of RK Narayan by Pico Iyer. It details RK Narayans fascination with Malgudi, his earlier days, venturing into writing and his simple life. It is probably for these reasons that RK Narayan’s writings almost always echoes the life and troubles of the normal man.

The Guide is the story of a man of limited means and his journey from being a tourist guide and a railway stall keeper to a Godman. As like most of his novels, the story is set in the background of the small town of Malgudi.  The story begins with Raju leaving the prison and his silence and aloofness being mistaken for an enlightened soul. Add to it, a few statements here and there uttered just by his experience of reading several books and listening to anecdotes and bedtime stories from his mother during his childhood leads an entire village to believe that he is a holy God Man sent to the village.

The story weaves in and out of his past and present while outlining the characters who played an important role in the life of Raju from being a tourist guide, to a revered God man. Tiny details like the first train that comes to Malgudi, the many types of people that Raju comes across in his life as a guide are essayed in a beautiful fashion that attracts the readers. The story gets its twists and turns when Rosie, the snake dancer enters the scene with her reclusive husband.

Rosie, Raju and Marco form an interesting triangle of characters around which the plot develops. How Raju grows from becoming a simple tourist guide to a besotted lover boy to Rosie, then her manager, a prisoner and then a God Man is bound to keep all readers turning the pages to know what happened next. Finally, the Godman Raju’s holiness is put to test when a series of misinterpreted messages leading to force Raju into fasting to bring rains to a village devastated by droughts. Will Raju come clean or would he do one last act that would redeem him of his life’s mistakes.

The character portrayals throughout the book are so realistic that they make you wonder if this is just a story or a leaf out of the authors real life experiences with people. The way God-men are created in India would closely resemble how it happens with Railway Raju. The book traces through several indian traditions, myths and customs that many refuse to let go even today. The present is set in the temple premises of a village on the banks of a river that is beginning to run dry due to droughts whereas the past is completely set in the village of Malgudi. As always, The Guide is another masterpiece writing by RK Narayan and earns our praise for being a story of the common man.

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