Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Guide

They sat beside the Swami and read the message to him. He smiled at it. He beckoned Velan to come nearer.

The doctors appealed, 'Tell him he should save himself. Please do your best. He is very weak'.

Velan bent close to the Swami and said, 'The doctors say----'

In answer Raju asked the man to bend nearer, and whispered, 'Help me to my feet,' and clung to his arm and lifted himself. He got up to his feet. He had to be held by Velan and another on each side. In the profoundest silence the crowd followed him down.

Everyone followed at a solemn silent pace. The eastern sky was red. Many in the camp were still sleeping. Raju could not walk, but he insisted upon pulling himself along all the same. He panted with the effort. He went down the steps of the river, halting for breath on each step, and finally reached his basin of water.
He stepped into it, shut his eyes, and turned towards the mountain, his lips muttering the prayer. Velan and another held him by each arm. 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.
The novel The Guide by RK Narayan ends this way. A Swami named Raju refuses to stop his fast for rain and his condition worsens.  But the movie version of the book in Hindi, Guide directed by Vijay Anand in 1965 shows the villagers dancing to the music of rain while Raju’s mother and Rosie mourn over his death.

The movie version deviates in many ways from RK Narayan’s novel. For example, Rosie’s husband Marco is a womanizer in the movie, while in the novel; he is shown as an archaeologist interested only in his research. The music by SD Burman is memorable in that it beautifully captures the atmosphere of the story.

Both have as protagonist, Raju, a roguish railway guide from Malgudi. He lands in a village, where he is mistaken for a saint while he has no such otherworldly traits in his nature. His past, which he narrates to Velan, has dramatic incidents-such as seduction of a married woman of a client, living together much to the angst of his loving mother and a term in jail for forging Rosie’s signature on a document.

 The story of his past shows how he falls in love with Rosie and causes a drift her and her husband Marco. He takes her into her home and lets her follow her dream of becoming a dancer. She succeeds as a dancer and brings money to him, who acts as her manager. But he forges her signature on a document and lands in jail. On his release, he finds himself in a village, where the poor uneducated villagers mistake him for a saint/sadhu.

What is amazing is the transformation the self-centred Raju undergoes as a result of the devotion and faith of the villagers headed by Velan. Though his guiding qualities are manifested in the way he entertains his clients and how he helps Rosie find her dreams, in his newly-donned role as a guide to the villagers he survives by his glibness and experience of the world. 

For free lunches, he becomes a spiritual guide, a solace to the worried villagers. When drought and famine hits the village, his words are misinterpreted as his intention not to have food till it rains. The villagers are astonished by this and Raju cannot fail them. So he decides to keep a fast for twelve days in order to bring rain to the starving villagers.The roguish hero turns a saint when he makes an effort to sacrifice his life for the villagers.  The end of the novel is ambiguous- whether Raju dies as a result of his unselfish act or whether it rains is not clear. But the movie depicts an outburst of rain while Rosie and Raju's mother mourn over his death.