At the riverbank near the village of Mangal, months or years have passed. Raju’s hair and beard have grown long; his repute has grown so much that he has come to be called “Swami,” or religious teacher, and visitors come to the temple from afar to visit him. He is so inundated by offerings from the supplicants that he has lost interest in accumulation and gives everything back to his visitors. The temple hall is especially packed during the rainy season, when people shelter within to hear the swami speak.
Raju’s transformation is so thorough that he has managed to keep up the façade of a “holy man” for months, or perhaps years. He now not only looks the part of a holy man, he has the name of one—as indicated in the title of “Swami” that the villagers and other visitors give him. Some deeper changes seem to have taken place in Raju, as well. Raju’s life has hitherto been marked by greed and a desire for accumulation; the fact that Raju gives back the gifts that he is given by visitors indicates that his desire for accumulation is perhaps being tempered.
One year, Raju notices that there has been no rain. The river has shrunk, and the food offerings of the villagers have grown meager. Everyone in the village is thinking about the rains, and they ask Raju for explanations for their plight. The drought worsens; the cattle that the villagers herd are weak, producing little milk, and soon they begin dying.
The lack of rains and subsequent drought have serious implications for the villagers—who rely on the rains for their livelihood of farming and cattle herding. The fact that the villagers turn to Raju for explanations suggests the esteem that they hold him in; Raju has become a kind of father figure to whom the villagers turn in times of trouble.
One day, Velan asks Raju to go with him to a forest path to examine a dead buffalo in the hope that Raju will be able to determine the cause of the animal’s death. Raju goes with Velan and tells him that the buffalo has died of poison. This reassures the villagers for a time—but cattle continue dying.
Raju’s announcement that the buffalo has died of poison has no basis in reality—Raju simply says this so as to get Velan and the other villagers to stop pestering him for explanations. Raju’s recourse to lying on this occasion suggests that he has not given up his old habits of deceit and dissimulation.
The local shopkeepers, eager to exploit the villagers’ desperation, raise their prices. Soon, a fight between the shopkeepers and customers engulfs the entire village, leading to violence.
The gravity of the situation occasioned by the drought is reflected in the fact that tensions between the villagers and others spill into violence; the scarcity under which the villagers suddenly find themselves living leads to huge conflict.
The day after the fight, Velan’s brother comes to Raju to inform him that Velan has been injured. Raju is not sure what he is expected to do and doesn’t care much. Seeking to avoid a commotion, Raju tells Velan’s brother—a rather dull-witted 21-year-old who is visiting the temple for the first time—to tell the villagers not to fight. Uttering one of his cryptic statements, he tells Velan’s brother that unless the villagers are good, he’ll never eat.
Raju seems to be rather unmoved by the news that Velan has been injured. This reflects his callousness and selfishness—Velan has been a good friend to Raju, and yet, Raju doesn’t want to be bothered or to act upon this news of his friend’s injury. In his laziness, and seeking to avoid further trouble, Raju utters one of his mystifying statements—one that is essentially meaningless, which he speaks only so that he can be left in peace.
Velan’s brother finds a gathering of village elders discussing the drought and the recent fight with the shopkeepers. Afraid to tell the villagers that he has mentioned the fight to Raju, he muddles up Raju’s message, suggesting that Raju has undertaken not to eat until the rains arrive again. Impressed by Raju’s readiness to take on such a sacrifice, the villagers compare him to the great freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi.
While Raju’s mystifying statements have often brought him respect and prestige from the villagers, in this case they also bring him trouble. In muddling up Raju’s message, Velan’s brother gives a meaning to Raju’s words that Raju himself had not intended. That the villagers then go on to compare Raju to Mahatma Gandhi suggests the immense respect and gratitude that they accord to him, as a result of his (presumed) intention to fast.
The villagers decide to visit the swami by the river. At the gathering, Raju waits for the food offerings that they always present to him, but no offerings appear. Raju continues to read and discourse to the gatherings on various topics, but still there is no food.
Raju’s focus on food in this scene indicates that, after months or years of serving as “holy man” to the villagers, his primary objective is still selfish—he simply seeks to secure sustenance for himself. Thus, Raju is still motivated by self-interest.
Velan tells Raju that everyone is hoping for Raju to come through the ordeal safely. The villagers come to touch his feet and again compare him to Gandhi. Raju, reading into Velan’s words, realizes that Velan and the others think that he is fasting today. Velan says that he will keep watch over Raju—that this is the least he can do—and he tells Raju that his brother has told the villagers that Raju is prepared to fast. Raju remembers that he has discoursed to the villagers on penance, and suddenly he realizes the seriousness of the situation that he is in. Agitated, he tells Velan to leave him alone until the next night.
Slowly, Raju begins to realize the enormity of the sacrifice that the villagers expect of him. His agitation at the realization that the villagers think he will fast sets his hypocrisy into relief. He had discoursed to the villagers on penance, and yet now, when it dawns on him that they expect him to undergo a penance through the fast, he is alarmed and miserable. As such, the villagers’ comparison of Raju to Gandhi here is ironic; Raju, unlike the great freedom fighter, is in fact reluctant to undergo any kind of penance or discomfort.
Raju, finally alone, attempts to sleep, but finds it difficult. He wonders whether the villagers actually “expect him to starve for fifteen days,” as well as to stand for hours each day in the river’s knee-deep water, holding vigil. He thinks of running away, but he is moved by the villagers’ gratitude for the deed they think he is undertaking. He eats the few remaining morsels of food he still has.
Raju’s apprehension of the long fast that the villagers expect him to undertake puts him in a state of crisis. On the one hand, his old, selfish instincts assert themselves—Raju does not want subject himself to the hardship and therefore thinks of running away. On the other hand, the fact that he is moved by the villagers’ gratitude, and does not run away, suggests that a new, more noble impulse is perhaps taking root in him.
When Velan returns the next night, Raju asks him what makes him think that Raju can bring about rain. Raju tells Velan that he’s no saint, but an ordinary man, and he begins narrating to Velan.
Raju’s decision to confess to Velan that he is not a saint but only an ordinary man is ambiguous. His confession is partly motivated by the hope that Velan will help him “cheat” his way through the fast by surreptitiously bringing him food. On the other hand, this confession represents the first time that Raju has been truly honest with Velan.