After his father dies, Raju comes to be known as “Railway Raju.” Visitors arriving in Malgudi by train ask him for his guidance in exploring the sites of the town. With the help of Gaffur, a taxi driver in the town, Raju shows them around. In acting as guide, Raju often changes facts and stories about the places that he shows, or makes up things all together, depending on his mood that day, or on what he thinks his customers want to hear. He gauges customers according to their means and adjusts his tours accordingly to reap maximum profit.
Raju’s transformation into a tourist guide is the first of many such transformations that he undergoes throughout his life. Here, his penchant for disguise and dishonesty becomes apparent, given that Raju makes up many of the facts and stories that he tells his tourist clients—giving no heed to whether these facts and stories have any basis in reality. Furthermore, Raju’s fixation on reaping the maximum profit from his clients points to his greed and materialism, qualities which often drive him to exploit others.
One day, a girl from Madras, by the name of Rosie, who visits Malgudi with her husband, asks to see a dancing cobra. While enchanted by the girl, Raju develops a deep dislike of her husband. Her husband had arrived first in Malgudi, seeming already to know everything about the town. Because he was dressed like an explorer, Raju gave him the nickname Marco. Shortly after arriving, Marco had asked Raju to take him to the railway station to meet a train coming from Madras. From this train, Rosie had stepped down, beautiful and enchanting.
Rosie and Marco are the only two clients that Raju mentions by name in narrating his history as a tourist guide. This indicates that they have a special impact on Raju—they are unlike many of the other clients that he has shown around Malgudi. Indeed, Raju’s feelings towards Rosie and her husband seem to be extreme. While he is clearly enamored with the wife, he expresses a deep revulsion for her know-it-all husband. These extreme feelings do not bode well; they suggest that Raju, from the very beginning of his encounter with Rosie and Marco, becomes too emotionally involved too quickly.
Raju, eager to please Rosie, searches for a cobra. While Marco is busy examining an ancient temple one day, Gaffur drives Raju and Rosie to a remote part of Malgudi. There, they meet a snake charmer who, under a tree, reveals a dancing cobra. Rosie is completely fascinated by the snake and suddenly imitates its movements in a dance. Watching her, Raju is thunderstruck: her movements are so captivating that he thinks that she must be the best dancer in the world. After the meeting with the snake charmer, Raju and Gaffur drop Rosie off at her hotel, where they find her husband waiting. Marco, to Raju’s annoyance, demands that the car be ready the next morning at 10 am.
Rosie’s imitation of the snake’s movement under the shade of a tree is an important moment in the novel. It is at this moment that Raju not only recognizes Rosie’s immense talent as a dancer, but is also completely captivated by her as a woman. The power of Rosie’s imitation of the snake is also significant because it alludes to the depth of her own artistic and feminine potency. Rosie is a force to be reckoned with both as an artist and as a woman, and this is perhaps why Raju finds himself so deeply attracted to her. And yet, Rosie has a husband—Marco’s appearance at the end of this scene, demanding the prompt arrival of the car the next morning, is a reminder that Rosie is not a free woman.
The next morning, Raju and Gaffur duly arrive at the hotel at the allotted time. Marco emerges without Rosie and wants to set off in spite of her absence to examine cave friezes at Mempi Hills, a wild area on the outskirts of Malgudi. At Raju’s prodding, Marco reveals that he is having trouble with his wife, which is why she is not accompanying them on the trip. Raju, looking for any opportunity to approach Rosie, convinces Marco to let him go and speak to her.
The events of the next morning reveal that all is not well in the marriage between Marco and Rosie. This is to Raju’s benefit, who immediately seeks to take advantage of the situation by asking permission from Marco to approach Rosie. Raju’s hypocrisy is on full display here: while he pretends that he is doing the husband a favor by seeking to conciliate his wife, in fact he is only looking for a way to get closer to Rosie, at a cost to Marco.
Raju goes to the hotel room and knocks, telling Rosie through the doorway that he is not her husband. He flatters and compliments her, saying that he couldn’t sleep all night, thinking of her dancing before the cobra. Finally she opens the door, and he continues with his flatteries, entreating her to join them on the trip, telling her that life without her is meaningless. Rosie is won over by Raju’s compliments and closes the door to change for the trip. Raju informs Marco that Rosie is coming, and Marco is amazed at Raju’s success. Rosie, having packed a bag for herself and her husband for what is likely to be an overnight trip, joins them in the car.
Raju deploys all of his powers of seduction to come closer to Rosie. Here, as with the villagers whom he hoodwinks largely through his mystifying statements, Raju reveals his great gifts for eloquence. In the compliments and the flatteries that he conveys to Rosie, he seems to deduce exactly what she wants to hear. His hypocrisy, however, is further confirmed in his interaction with Marco. The latter has no idea that Raju has convinced Rosie to join them essentially by attempting to seduce her. In this way, Raju, while pretending to “serve’ Marco to his face, in fact undermines him behind his back.
The party—driven by Gaffur—arrives at Peak House, a lodging at the top of Mempi Hills outside of Malgudi, later that afternoon. Gaffur drops them off and returns to the town. Rosie is in ecstasy over the wild and beautiful surroundings. Joseph, the man who looks after Peak House, lights lanterns as night approaches. At dinner, Rosie insists on serving the meal and accidentally touches Raju, who is electrified and haunted by her touch.
Mempi Hills, where Peak House is located, is a wild and beautiful area outside of Malgudi. The varied landscape of the town and its surroundings suggests the broader landscape of India as a whole, which is composed of urban centers as well as a vast natural landscape. At Peak House, Raju’s infatuation with Rosie grows. His strong response to her accidental touch suggests the depth and the passion of his feelings for her.
After dinner, Marco announces that he intends to spend the evening reading, and so Raju and Rosie go to sit in the house’s glass veranda, through which they can watch wild animals coming and going in the night. Sitting beside Rosie in the darkness, Raju is dazzled and excited by her nearness. Suddenly, they see the eyes of a wild animal flashing in the dark. Rosie is excited. Raju, unable to contain his own excitement at Rosie’s proximity, breathes hard, and she asks him what is the matter, but then Marco appears and interrupts them.
The wild setting of Peak House, including the wild animals that surround it, allude to the wild, animalistic passion that Raju himself feels for Rosie. Indeed, in this scene, Raju is so stimulated and excited by Rosie’s proximity that he seems unable even to control his physical reactions—he breathes so loudly that Rosie asks him what is the matter. Raju’s wild passion and his limitless desire for closeness with Rosie is contrasted with Marco’s coolness and distance; while Raju and Rosie are busy watching the animals, Marco retreats to his scholarly study.
The next morning, the mood is tense. Marco appears without Rosie, and when Raju presses him on her whereabouts, Marco says to leave her alone. Raju wonders what has happened between them. He is reluctant to leave without Rosie, but Marco is impatient to embark on his visit to the caves, and so Raju has no choice but to follow him. At the caves, Marco comes alive. He talks to Raju about the site’s history, and he is soon busy measuring and photographing the friezes that decorate the walls. Watching him, Raju thinks that Marco is only passionate about dead and decaying things.
The troubles that plague Marco and Rosie’s marriage bubble to the surface again, as, for the second time, Rosie refuses to leave her room and to accompany her husband on an outing. Raju rightly notes that Marco seems to be much more interested in the caves and the friezes that decorate them than he is in anything else—including the troubles with his wife, on which is he is silent to Raju. Marco’s lack of interest in anything but the caves indicates the insensitivity of his character; he is, indeed, more preoccupied with dead and decaying things than with the living.
Looking for an excuse to check on Rosie, Raju pretends he hears Gaffur’s taxi and excuses himself from Marco for a brief visit to Peak House. There, he finds Rosie sitting on a boulder beneath the shade, clearly unhappy. She asks if her husband is still wall-gazing. Raju boldly asks her about her quarrels with Marco, and she informs him that they disagree about most things. Raju takes this opportunity to again praise her dancing and to flatter her, going so far as to reveal his feelings for her.
Rosie’s statement that she and Marco disagree about most things reveals that the troubles that plague the marriage run deep. Raju again takes advantage of the conflict between Marco and Rosie to ingratiate himself to Rosie. His intention to seduce her is reflected in the fact that, at every opportunity, Raju resorts to flattering and complimenting her in way that appeases her ego—by reassuring her of the brilliance of her dance, and by declaring his feelings. Raju behaves boldly, but in a very calculated way.
Rosie, perhaps prompted by Raju’s flattery, opens up about her conflicts with Marco. She tells Raju that she had married Marco because of his wealth and class. She further shares that she comes from a family dedicated to the temples as dancers—the women of their caste are viewed as public women. As a girl Rosie had attended school, and had gone so far as to earn a degree in economics. One day, she saw an ad in the paper, placed there by an academic in search of a wife. After Rosie met Marco, the author of the ad, she was encouraged by her family to marry him, given that Marco was a man of wealth and class. If necessary, they told her, she must give up the family’s traditional art of dance, particularly as it turned out that Marco had no interest in her art.
Rosie’s background reflects her position as a woman at the crossroads of modernity and tradition. On the one hand, she exemplifies a traditional identity as a member of a lower caste of temple dancers. On the other hand, she is a woman who pursues and completes her education—this is presumably unusual for a woman, particularly one of her caste. That Rosie, at the prompting of her family, marries Marco because of his wealth and class, also suggests her desire to escape the constraints that are imposed on her as a result of her poverty and low social status. As such, Rosie had clearly hoped that a husband such as Marco would bring her freedom. But this deliverance comes at a price, given that she must give up her family’s ancestral art of dance.
When Raju touches Rosie after she finishes speaking, she does not refuse his touch. Emboldened, Raju again flatters her, telling her she is a queen. Later that day, news arrives that Gaffur’s taxi has broken down, which means that he cannot come to pick them up as planned. Everyone is happy—particularly Raju, who sits again with Rosie in the glass veranda that night to watch the animals. This time, he holds her hand in the darkness.
By letting Raju touch her, Rosie begins to collude in the betrayal of her husband. Raju further encourages this impulse on her part by taking to flattering and complimenting her again. The development of the relationship is indicated in the fact that the physical contact between Raju and Rosie grows, as he holds her hand that night in the veranda. By this point, the relationship between Rosie and Raju has progressed well beyond the bounds of propriety, given that she is a married woman.
Gaffur, having fixed his taxi, arrives at Peak House, but Marco, still deep in his cave study, wants to remain at the House to continue with his research. After they decide to remain at Peak House, Raju accompanies Rosie back to Malgudi with Gaffur to pick up more things for the extended stay. As he drives them back, Gaffur looks at Rosie and Raju suspiciously—gleaning that there has been some sort of change between the tourist guide and Marco’s wife.
The taxi driver, Gaffur is, the first to catch on to the fact that something is not quite right in the relationship between Raju and Rosie. The implicit disapproval that he expresses through his suspicious gaze suggests that what Raju and Rosie are embarking on is not only inappropriate, but also immoral, given Rosie’s status as a married woman.
In Malgudi, Raju briefly stops at his house, where his mother confronts him, full of questions about his disappearance. Raju avoids his mother’s questions and instead takes the opportunity to show Rosie the sights. Gaffur, who drives them around, explicitly warns Raju that Rosie is a married woman. Rosie, meanwhile, is excited like a child at the sights that Raju shows her. One evening, after a long day of sightseeing, he takes her to her room and follows her inside.
In becoming so preoccupied with Marco and especially Rosie, Raju seems to have neglected the rest of his life back in Malgudi—including his mother. Raju’s infatuation with Rosie does not seem to be having a good influence on him. Gaffur’s explicit warning to Raju about Rosie is wise, and yet, Raju’s own ill judgment is reflected in the fact that he does not heed Gaffur’s words, and continues his pursuit of Rosie. Ultimately, he gets what he wants: once he enters Rosie’s hotel room, the affair commences in earnest.