Thursday, February 4, 2010

R.K. Narayan's Narrative Technique in his The Guide

Narayan uses the interesting technique of a varied narrative perspective. The story shifts back and forth between first and third person narrative; at times it is Raju, the main character speaking, and at other times the story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator. The author also utilizes cinematic elements such as flashbacks and jump cuts.

When we first encounter Raju, he is about to meet Velan, and he is seen at this point from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. Then Raju takes over the narrative chores and relates his progress from sweetmeat seller to jailbird to Velan. In between, the omniscient narrator punctuates Raju's narrative by showing him dealing with the villagers as a holy man.

The Guide divided into two parts, narrates Raju’s childhood, love affair, imprisonment (first part) and growth into a swami (second part). Though the streams move simultaneously, the first part is set in Malgudi. Raju’s past and the second part is set in Mangla, Raju’s present. While Raju’s past in Malgudi is narrated by Raju himself, his present in Mangla is narrated by the author.

R.K. Narayan is a novelist of common people and common situations. His plot of The Guide is built of material and incidents that are neither extra-ordinary nor heroic. The Guide is a story of Raju’s romance, his greed for money, his sin and repentance.It is also the story of everyman’s growth from the ordinary to extra- ordinary, from the railway guide to the spiritual guide.

For most of his life Raju had managed to manipulate other people's emotional needs for his own advantage, but the novel shows him going beyond himself to do a genuinely disinterested act at the cost of his life.

Raju begins his professional life as the owner of a sweetmeat stall at the railway station in a region of India that has become a popular tourist attraction. He soon discovers that he has a knack for telling people what they would like to hear and becomes a fulltime guide. This profession leads him into an affair with one of his clients, Rosie, the neglected wife of an anthropologist Marco. Rosie has a passion for dancing which Marco doesn't approve of. Rosie, encouraged by Raju, decides to follow her dreams and walks out on her husband. Raju becomes her stage manager and soon with the help of Raju's marketing tactics, Rosie becomes a successful dancer. Raju, however, develops an inflated sense of self-importance and tries to control Rosie. Gradually, the relationship between Raju and Rosie becomes strained. Marco reappears and Raju inadvertently gets involved in a case of forgery and gets a two year sentence. After completing the sentence, Raju is passing through a village when he is mistaken for a sadhu (a spiritual guide). Reluctant not having to return in disgrace to Malgudi, he stays in an abandoned temple. Raju satisfies the demand of villagers of Mangala. Slowly and gradually, he becomes the spiritual guide of the villagers who come to get all sorts of issues resolved by him. They start to trust and listen to him and soon he earns their respect and turns into a guru or god like person for them.

Everything is running smoothly till the time the village is afflicted by a major drought and one of the villagers mistakes Raju’s comments to be a vow to keep a fast for 12 days in order to please the rain gods. Raju has no other option but to comply by his vow. The role that he took unhappily and forcibly in the beginning becomes very dear to him as time passes. He starts believing in his role and feels that for the first time in his life he is doing something for the people, selflessly, out of humanity and not lust for money or any other material goods. The news of his fasting spreads throughout the country like wildfire and a huge crowd of curious onlookers from other places starts gathering round him. As he can no longer take the fasting, his legs give away, he collapses dreaming or visualizing the rain drops somewhere in the hills. The novels ends with a question still unanswered whether he dies and whether the rain actually comes.

In Narayan’s plot there is a mixture of the comic and serious, the real and the fantastic. So is the case with The Guide.Raju, the poor becomes the rich, the convict gets the reputation and regard of the saint, the holy man and the swami. There is squalor, poverty and misery in the life of Raju on the other side there is relief, which is beautiful and charming Rosie.

Another technique Narayan uses is imagery and symbolism which is rooted in Indian culture but has universal appeal. At the end of the story, where Raju is drowning, his eyes engrossed towards the mountains as a brilliant sun rises and villagers look on. By juxtaposing the simple background of the Indian village at sunrise with the suicide scene, Narayan effectively communicates Raju's death as an image of hope, consistent with the Indian belief in death and rebirth.

Narayan’s has a gift of sketching pen pictures that bring scenes and characters vividly to life without taking recourse to ornate or excessive description. Narayan’s simplicity of language conceals a sophisticated level of art. Narayan handles language like an immensely flexible tool that effortlessly conveys both the specific as well as symbolic and the universal. The tone of The Guide is quite and subdued.

Thus the use of flashback, common lifestyle, comedy, language and the double perspective, Raju’s and the novelist’s make the novel fresh stimulating, provocative and interesting.