The Guide - By R K Narayan Swinging Between Opposites
R K Narayan cannot escape a mention in the discussion of Indian literature for many readers of our generation either like him or love him. The writer has captured our fancies ranging from innocent love to confusions and bewilderment of teenage and adulthood. Almost all of his stories are character driven but distinct. Undoubtedly his most outstanding work is 'The Guide'. I have never met anyone who has read the book and not spoken of it with an enthusiastic smile on his face. How can you put romance in the soul of two unusual yet ordinarily de-glamorized characters without any masala? I remember reading the book as a teenager sitting up in the middle of the night engrossed in the story.
The writer uses Raju's childhood as a big canvas to portray rural characters and settings that take us back in an era. Raju grows up into a tour Guide for his village and destiny brings him close to Rosy. Rosy's character, experts agree, was atypical of the generation where women barely had a free spirit. Rosy, though in the beginning a restraint and submissive wife, finds her freedom with Raju. The live-in relation of the two defies all notions of the society of those time. An acclaimed dancer in the later stage, the readers develop an ambivalence towards her specially as they see Raju suffer.
After the novel became a super hit, Raju got a face on the silver screen. Popular actor Devanand played Raju while Waheeda Rahman became Rosy/Nalini and there were beautiful songs to spell out their love. But the thing with books is that you can go imagining and imagining untill your mind runs wild whereas the scope is limited in films. So the novel is just irreplaceable. R K Narayan is generous with both words and descriptions. He provides sufficient fodder for imagination.
Raju-Rosy's liaison, the journey of a boy to man and to a spiritual ascetic, The Guide is abundant. The technique of one chapter in first person narration and the following one with a third person is very engaging and imparts suspense to the story.
Talking about the ending of the novel, there has been much debate about the same. Many do not appreciate it but then I respect the writer's vision and prefer to believe that Raju did meet with that end. Unlike some movie goers and readers, I do not judge a book based on it's ending. I take into account- first: how much I enjoyed while going through character's journey. Second: Would I like to read it again? A Big Yes.
Narayan's 'A Painter Of Signs' was a very average one whereas ' The Bachelor Of Arts' stood out for me. But no other work by the writer can be compared with the engrossing subject of 'The Guide' and it's success.
For readers of our generation, 'The Guide' is a specimen of a simple told romantically.