In tracing the metamorphosis of Raju—the protagonist of The Guide—from shopkeeper to tourist guide to stage manager to holy man, Narayan’s novel delves both into the pitfalls and the redemptive potential of transformation. While Raju’s many guises are framed by deceit and illusion, Narayan suggests that throughout these transformations, Raju moves towards fulfilling his destiny, redeeming himself in his final role as a spiritual guide. In this way, the novel also affirms the Hindu principle of dharma—understood as a law or principle along which an individual acts out their fate.
Transformation is at the heart of Raju’s journey from shopkeeper to holy man. Over the course of the novel, he adopts different identities, slipping in and out of various careers, often dishonestly, in his pursuit of money and prestige. Although Raju adopts many different guises, a common thread underpins his transformations—in one form or another, he always plays the role of “guide,” suggesting that being a guide is his calling. His work showing tourists around Malgudi sees him “guiding” visitors through, and to, the town’s sites and geography. This is the role Raju plays in relation to Marco, the scholar who visits Malgudi to undertake research, and whom Raju leads to the cave paintings. After Raju betrays Marco by starting an affair with his young and beautiful wife, Rosie, he again takes up the role of a kind of “guide” by managing Rosie’s career as a dancer. In orchestrating Rosie’s performances and engagements, Raju also contributes to guiding Rosie towards stardom.
Finally, Raju willingly adopts the role of spiritual “guide” foisted upon him by the locals of the small village in which he ends up after his release from prison. Although Raju is far removed from spirituality or mysticism, the villagers do not know this, and blindly put their faith in his spiritual powers. Towards the end of the novel, an American television producer arrives in the small village to make a film about the fast that Raju undertakes to bring about drought-ending rains. The producer asks Raju, “Have you always been a yogi?” and Raju answers, “Yes, more or less.” That the role of “guide”—in one form or another—always frames and underpins Raju’s transformations suggests that being a guide is Raju’s destined vocation.
Indeed, through his final transformation into a yogi, Raju seems to fulfill the destiny or dharma of “guide” in its highest, most noble sense. While Raju is at first reluctant to take on the fast for the rains that the villagers expect him to, he finds that he has no choice but to succumb to their expectations—he simply has no access to food. Finding himself cornered, Raju finally commits to undertaking the fast genuinely, subjecting himself to a great sacrifice and risking his life in the process, all for the purpose of fulfilling the villagers’ hopes for rains. Notably, Velan’s continued faith in him—even after Raju discloses his full life-story and shares with Velan his history of deceit—leads him to attempt to live up to Velan’s and the villagers’ trust in him. By finally submitting to the two-week fast, then, Raju acts for the first time in his life as a “guide” not out of pure self-interest, but for the good of others.
Raju’s authentic attempt to “guide” the villagers out of the drought through the act of fasting not only represents him fulfilling his fate in the noblest sense, but it also leads to his redemption. While Raju has spent much of his life deceiving and swindling others under various guises of a guide, this life of deceit is mitigated through the sacrifice he undertakes by fasting. Raju’s redemption through this act of sacrifice is suggested in the final image of the novel. A young villager named Velan helps Raju, who is weakened by the fast to the point of being unable to stand in the dry river bed where he holds vigil every day on his own. The last scene shows Raju thinking that he sees rain coming over the hills. While the ending of the novel is ambiguous (the reader does not know whether Raju is hallucinating or whether rain is in fact coming; and the reader is also left in the dark about whether Raju lives or dies), this image of rain suggests a spiritual nourishment or reawakening—indeed, Raju tells Velan that he feels the rain rising in his body. Thus, irrespective of whether or not the rain does actually come, Raju’s vision of rain in this final scene alludes to the great change that has come over him. In authentically taking on the role of a spiritual guide by undergoing the fast, he fulfills the role of “guide” in its highest sense, and redeems himself in the process.
The Guide portrays the journey of a man who, even as he transforms himself often dishonestly, moves towards the fulfillment of his destiny. By finally and authentically taking on the responsibilities of a holy man to help the villagers who have sustained him, Raju acts according to the dharma that governs his life: playing the role of “guide” in its most benevolent and selfless sense. In this regard, Raju not only fulfills his destiny, but he also redeems himself through his self-sacrifice.
Transformation and Redemption ThemeTracker
Transformation and Redemption 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?”
I was accepted by Marco as a member of the family. From guiding tourists I seemed to have come to a sort of concentrated guiding of a single family.
I dressed myself soberly for the part in a sort of rough-spun silk shirt and an upper cloth and a handspun and handwoven dhoti, and I wore rimless glasses—a present from Marco at one of our first meetings. I wore a wristwatch—all this in my view lent such weight to what I said that they had to listen to me respectfully. I too felt changed; I had ceased to be the old Railway Raju.
I was now a sort of hanger-on in the house; ever since she had released me from police custody, the mastery had passed to her. I fretted inwardly at the thought of it. When the first shock of the affair had subsided, she became hardened. She never spoke to me except as to a tramp she had salvaged.
I felt like telling Mani, “Be careful. She’ll lead you on before you know where you are, and then you will find yourself in my shoes all of a sudden! Beware the snake woman!” I knew my mind was not working either normally or fairly. I knew I was growing jealous of her self-reliance. But I forgot for the
moment that she was doing it all for my sake.
But on Friday and Saturday I turned the last page of the Hindu with trembling fingers—and the last column in its top portion always displayed the same block, Nalini’s photograph, the name of the institution where she was performing, and the price of tickets. Now at this corner of South India, now there, next week in Ceylon, and another week in Bombay or Delhi. Her empire was expanding rather than shrinking.
Raju asked, “Now you have heard me fully?” […]
Raju was taken aback at still being addressed as “Swami.” “What do you think of it?”
Velan looked quite pained at having to answer such a question. “I don’t know why you tell me all this, Swami. It’s very kind of you to address at such length your humble servant.”
“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.”
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.