The Guide is narrated through a series of the protagonist Raju’s flashbacks/ memory. R K Narayan, like another Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh, masterfully handled the complex flow of time through the flashbacks/ memory. The novel unfolds through flashbacks, then progresses occasionally in the present. His use of the flashbacks, which present the past events during the present events, bridge the gap between the past and present. In this way the flashbacks provide the background for the current narration. Moreover, from this back and forth movement of the plot the readers get an insight into the protagonist’s motivation and personality. This makes the narration of the novel captivating to the reader. In this regard his The Guide can only be compared with Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines, which was also narrated through a series of flashbacks/ from memory.
The setting of R.K. Narayan’s novel, The Guide, as most of his novel, is Malgudi, a fictional town in southern India. The novel is told in a series of flashback.
The noble opens in the present with the Protagonist Raju’s release from prison, when he stops to rest near an abandoned shrine. Here he meets an ignorant villager named Velan, who mistakes him for a holy man and mentions his problems to him. His problem relates to his half sister who has run away from home on the day fixed for her marriage. Raju asks the man to bring his sister to him. The next day the man does so and also brings food and other offerings for Raju. The girl is so much impressed by Raju’s personality that she apologizes to her elders for her misdeeds and agrees to the marriage arranged by them. This establishes Raju’s fame as a Holyman and Velan becomes his devoted disciple. Since Raju does not want to return in disgrace to his friend in Malgudi he reluctantly decides to play the part of a holyman. He is happy to accept the daily offerings of food which the villagers bring for him. Gradually he accepts the role which has been thrust upon him and he act as spiritual adviser to the village community
Though Raju is living in the company of the villagers, he frequently remembers his past life.
Through this first flashback we come to know about Raju’s early life. Raju frequently remembers his childhood when he has just released from prison and stops to rest near an abandoned shrine. He remembers that his father ran a shop in a village where he also uses to help him sometimes everyday. A crowd of peasants and drivers of bullock wagons always gather in front of his shop. Every afternoon his father has asked him to take charge of the shop and has given him all necessary instructions. Sitting at the shop and selling peppermints would be no trouble for Raju, but he did not like his father’s habit of waking him up with the crowing of the cock and then teaching him alphabets and arithmetic. Sometimes, his father would take him to the town when he went there to make his purchase. Raju would be fascinated by the changing scene, men, women, children and carts moving around him, till he would feel drowsy and go to sleep.
Raju also remembers the time when railway track and a railway train are to be built. There is a great excitement and the main question being asked is the time it would take for the railway to arrive at Malgudi. The red earth is brought in a number of trucks, and soon a small mountain is raised in front of Raju’s house. Raju would spend mot of his time playing, listening to the gossip of the laborers working on the truck, laughing at their jokes, and picking up their coarse vulgar abuses which they freely hurl at each other. One day, as he plays on the mound of earth, a boy, who is rearing his cows nearby, also comes there to play. Raju asks him to go away and shouts vulgar abuses. The boy complains his father and repeats the exact words Raju has used. Raju’s father becomes angry, and decides that he must go to school from the very next day.
Raju recalls his school days. He is sent not to the Albert mission School, for his father believes that boys are converted to Christianity there, but to another school called Pyol School. All the classes have been held there at the same time and Raju belongs to the youngest and most elementary set. He has learnt the alphabets and numbers. But the teacher, an old man is a very abusive man. The boys make a lot of noises. Once they even have entered the master’s kitchen and have made fun of him. They have been forbidden to enter his house again. The old teacher has been paid one rupee per month for each boy. However, the boys frequently have been bringing some eatables for him, and in this way he has been able to make his both ends meet. Raju has proved himself to be an intelligent student after a year at this school; he makes sufficient progress to be admitted to the local Board High School. The old teacher himself leaves him there and blesses him. This act of his teacher surprises Raju.
Through flash black, Raju continues with the story of his past. The laying of the railway track finally completes and a railway station is established at Malgudi. The coming of the Railway train to Malgudi has been a turning point in Raju’s career. Raju’s father has been given a shop on the platform and Raju has been asked to run this shop. After his father’s sudden death, the burden of managing both the shops falls on Raju’s shoulders. Raju comes into contact with the passengers, chair with them learn things from them, give them information and helps them. Gradually he becomes a famous tourist guide. The shop is then entrusted to a boy as Raju can not spare enough time for the shop. Raju becomes very popular as a guide and soon comes to be known as “Railway Raju’. Travelers visiting Malgudi would straightway ask for him as he is shrewd enough to give the right type of help to each tourist.
Now Raju remembers his first meeting with Rosie. She was not very glamorous, but she had a beautiful figure, beautifully fashioned eyes that sparkled, a complexion not white, but dusky. Raju nicknamed her husband Marco because the man dresses in thick jacket and helmet as if undertaking an expedition like Marco Polo. Marco is a man of academic interest and he is deeply interested in research relating to the history of art and culture. Marco, who is more interested in his research than his wife or her needs, desires, wishes. Raju gets the opportunity of spending considerable time in the company of Rosie and excites her liking. Later, he pleases her by appreciating her beauty and her skill as a dancer. Raju comes into close contact with Rosie.
Now Raju reminisces how he changes from a skilful tourist guide to an adept lover. Both fall in love with each other. Raju and Rosie fully enjoy the beauty ad surroundings of Malgudi. They amuse each other; entertain each other and their days passes very smoothly. They pass together one night in the hotel and Rosie becomes Raju’s mistress.
Raju once again starts thinking about his past life. Raju’s encouragement motivates Rosie to discuss her dance performance with Marco. Rosie goes to Marco to seek permission for dancing and unconsciously confesses to Marco her relationship with Raju. Marco abandons Rosie and leaves for Madras.
Raju recollects the evening when Rosie comes back to Raju. He becomes very happy getting Rosie back. Raju’s obsession with Rosie grows to such an extent that he loses his job, shop, gets into heavy debt, and falls in his mother’s eyes too. She leaves him and the house as she cannot tolerate his living with a married woman who has been left by her husband.
Raju once again starts thinking about his past life. As Rosie is a trained classical dancer and always had an inner craving to make a mark for herself as a dancer. Raju encourages her to start dancing again-something that Marco always hated and never allowed her to do. Rosie resumes her dancing and Raju becomes her manager, thus helping launch a successful dancing career for her. Both start getting a lot of offers for dance performances all over the country and Rosie becomes popular. But Raju starts spending the earned money recklessly. In order to keep control over Rosie, and out of greed, he even forges her signature. Marco has sent some documents for Rosie’s signature. After signing the document, Rosie would be able to get a jewelry box which Marco has deposited in a bank. Raju forges the document and posts it back but does not tell Rosie about the document because he is afraid that she may be disturbed by Marco’s thoughtfulness and would form a high opinion about her husband’s honesty. But, unfortunately, for him Marco discovers the fraud, reports the matter to the police and Raju is arrested. He is sent to jail for two years for this crime.
The reminiscence of Raju makes the novel realistic as well as suspenseful. The flashback technique arouses the curiosity and the interest of the reader. The readers never get bored and are always on the lookout about what comes next. It also proves Narayan’s skill as a born story teller.