R. K. Narayan: The Guide: A Study Guide (1958)
R[asipuram] K[rishnaswamy] Narayan (1906-2001) is unusual among Indian authors writing in English in that he has stayed contentedly in his home country, venturing abroad only rarely. He rarely addresses political issues or tries to explore the cutting edge of fiction. He is a traditional teller of tales, a creator of realist fiction which is often gentle, humorous, and warm rather than hard-hitting or profound. Almost all of his writings are set in the fictional city of Malgudi, and are narrowly focused on the lives of relatively humble individuals, neither extremely poor nor very rich. The Guideis one of his most interesting books, which begins as a comic look at the life of a rogue, but evolves into something quite different. It should be noted that Narayan is not a devout Hindu, and has accused Westerners of wrongly supposing that all Indians are deeply spiritual beings; but it is also true that he was deeply impressed by some experiences he had with a medium after the sudden death of his young wife (described movingly in The English Teacher (1945). Narayan has stated that the incident of the reluctant holy man was based on a real event which he read about in the newspaper. [pic]
Why do you think Narayan chooses such an unusual way to introduce us to Raju? An anna is a very small coin. A maharaja is a traditional Indian prince. After the barber announces that Raju looks like a maharaja, the narrative takes an abrupt turn into the past. The incident of the villager who has come to consult with him in the next paragraph happened long ago. Narayan further complicates the narrative flow by glancing forward to a time when he will tell this villager, named Velan, his life story, which brings him to Rosie, who will be introduced into the novel later. He then abruptly springs back into the distant past to briefly tell the story of his childhood and then return to Velan and his problem. Note the blank lines he has inserted in the narrative to mark the points at which the setting changes. Explain the title of the novel. Traditional Indian temple dancers were dedicated to dancing for the gods, particularly Krishna. However, they also traditionally supported themselves through prostitution, and temple-dancing was eventually suppressed. Modern "classical dancers" are often highly respectable women who practice the art out of devotion to dance rather than religion. Look for passages in the novel which portray both negative and positive images of such dancers. "Betel leaf" is the mild stimulant chewed by many Indians and wrongly called "betel nut" because it is often served wrapped around an areca nut. "Parched gram" is roasted lentils, a staple in India. The pyol is a sort of front stoop where Indians often visit with neighbors and watch the world going by. Tamil is one of the many important languages of India, especially common in the south. Narayan has depicted himself as a poor student and a rebellious son, a self-portrait he has repeated over and over from Swami and Friends (1935) forward. What attracts the boy Raju more than his lessons? The story told about the Buddha is one of the most common lessons attributed to him; but would not necessarily be widely known by Indians, few of whom are Buddhists. What is its meaning? How do you think Raju is able to predict what Velan will say when he begins discussing his troubles? Note that Velan wants to treat Raju as a saint: a theme that will recur later in the novel. Why does Raju hope the girl is uninteresting? Jewelry is a necessity for any woman in India: a form of bank account and a sign of respectability. Thefts of such jewelry are quite rare. Idli are small steamed cakes of ground rice and fermented lentils, usually eaten for breakfast. Raju is posing as a holy man. How good is he at it? Another flashback returns us to his childhood for a few pages. Fermented lime-pickle, intensely sour, is a favorite...
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