Water is an integral part of Raju’s final incarnation as a holy man, or “swami,” in the small village of Malgam. He ends up here after his release from prison, and as such the water associated with his new life represents his purification and redemption. It is by the river that Raju meets Velan, the villager who innocently puts his faith in his healing powers. The significance of water as a symbol of purification and redemption becomes apparent towards the end of the novel, when a drought afflicts the villagers, who then draw Raju into a long fast in the hope that his sacrifice will bring about rains. Raju, who at first reluctantly, and then willingly, accepts the responsibility, stands in the river each day during the fast to hold vigil, chanting incantations. For the first time in his life, Raju acts out of self-sacrifice, on behalf of others, not out of self-interest. As such, his immersion in the river signals the transformation and purification that he undergoes in his final role as a holy man. The significance of water as a symbol for redemption is further reinforced in the final image of the novel, which depicts a famished and weakened Raju, possibly on the brink of death, standing in the river with the help of Velan, perceiving rain coming over the hills. Although Narayan doesn’t confirm or deny whether rain does actually arrive, Raju’s perception of water coming from the sky is significant: whether real or imagined, he feels as though he is about to be drenched in rain, and indeed feels the water in his body, coming up his feet and legs. This imagery of rain suggests that, at the climax of his act of self-sacrifice, Raju is purified and transformed.
Water Quotes in The Guide
[…] the villager resumed the study of his face with intense respect. And Raju stroked his chin thoughtfully to make sure that an apostolic beard had not suddenly grown there. It was still smooth.
Where could he go? He had not trained himself to make a living out of hard work. Food was coming to him unasked now. If he went away somewhere else certainly nobody was going to take the trouble to bring him food in return for just waiting for it.
Raju himself was not certain why he had advised that, and so he added, “If you do it you will know why.” The essence of sainthood seemed to lie in one’s ability to utter mystifying statements.
Raju soon realized that his spiritual status would be enhanced if he grew a beard and long hair to fall on his nape. A clean-shaven, close-haired saint was an anomaly.
[…] he suddenly noticed at the end of the year that the skies never dimmed with cloud. The summer seemed to continue. Raju inquired, “Where are the rains?”
The morning sun was out by now; a great shaft of light illuminated the surroundings. It was difficult to hold Raju on his feet, as he had a tendency to flop down. They held him as if he were a baby. Raju opened his eyes, looked about, and said, “Velan, it’s raining in the hills. I can feel it coming up under my feet, up my legs—” He sagged down.