The Guide by RK Narayan | Book Review

The Guide by RK Narayan

The Guide is one of the most loved books of Indian English literature. It is authored by the legendary R. K. Narayan, who is undoubtedly one of India’s best novelist and is globally known for his set of work and writing in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi. ‘The Guide’ won him his first major award, in 1960, the Sahitya Akademi Award. Like most of his other works, this novel is also set in Malgudi. It is the story about a young ambitious boy Raju, who is popularly known as ‘Railway Raju’. The story takes an unimaginable turn when he suddenly becomes, or we can say starts, acting as a holy man. Life becomes simple for him as he took this opportunity as another survival tool. But gradually he grows to become an actual holy man, an image which he created for himself to con the villagers. It is the story of the transformation of a corrupt man who has become spiritually awakened. Let’s explore Raju’s interesting life journey in the following sections.

Inspiration / Impulse

If someone asks me to make a list of the best memories from my childhood, then TV series, ‘Swami’ and ‘Malgudi Days’ definitely find a spot in it. Swami, his friends and family, the sleepy town and the simple yet interesting people of Malgudi, became so close to my young self’s heart that at such a young age I became a fan of the writer R. K. Narayan. When I grew up a little, I came across ‘The Guide’ in our station library. There was no way I wouldn’t get the book of my childhood favorite writer issued. I still remember paying a fine for not returning it on time as my young mind couldn’t comprehend the story that time. I was expecting it to be like the simple stories of Swami and Malgudi, which I was fond of watching on television. Later I read it again during my graduation only to admire the author more than ever. The ease and simplicity with which he portrayed the myriad themes and the complexity of the characters is remarkable. He didn’t idealise the characters. All are ordinary human beings who are striving to live a life of their dreams.

The Hook

Did they expect him to starve for fifteen days and stand in knee-deep water for eight hours? He sat up.
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.

Summary- The Guide

The Guide tells the life story of a young and highly ambitious town boy, Raju, who grows up from being a shopkeeper on the railway platform of a sleepy small South Indian town Malgudi, to a quick-witted charlatan tourist guide who escorts the visitors arriving at the railway station to all the popular attractions of Malgudi. His wit and charm soon make him the most sought-after tourist guide in the town and people started calling him, ‘Railway Raju’.

Raju’s life changes its course when he meets Rosie, the young and beautiful wife of Marco, an academician who is carrying out his research on the various archeological sites of Malgudi. Marco hired Raju as his guide. Soon Raju notices indifference of Marco towards his wife. Rosie was not happy in the relationship as Marco was very controlling and condemned her immense passion for dancing.

Raju gets infatuated with Rosie’s beauty and talent. He takes advantage of the situation and begins his efforts to woo her, though he always supports and encouraged her passion for her art. In the process, Rosie also develops a liking for him. When Marco learns about their illicit relationship, he disowns Rosie and returns home. Now Rosie was free and Raju helped her rise to success. He soon begins to exploit her success in the role of her manager. Raju’s desires were never-ending. The wealth and power that he earned by becoming Rosie’s manager made him blind. Now he also started controlling Rosie’s life, considering her only to be a tool for earning money. All this was paving the way for the rising dissatisfaction in Rosie. Raju’s delusions and insecurities make him stoop so low that he lands himself in jail.

The events in the novel take a dramatic turn when, on his way back home after serving his sentence in prison, he was mistaken for a sadhu by a villager. Raju’s life turned upside down when people started revering him as a spiritual guru. He also started enjoying this newfound role as a spiritual guide until one day he really had to become one.

Why did he go to jail? What happens with Rosie? Does he continue with the charade? Does he ever go through self-realization? Do the villagers come to know about his reality? The author has woven a picaresque story, answering some of the questions and leaving some to the reader’s imagination. This definitely deserves a dedicated read.


This novel is the classic portrayal of the downfall of a person running after satiating the never ending desires; then attaining enlightenment after realising that genuine pleasure lies in the happiness and welfare of others.

The charlatan tourist guide evolves into a real guide or a spiritual guru for the villagers. Their unshaken faith transforms the shrewd con man into a holy man who observes a hard fast as a ritual to appease the rain God to end the devastating famine in the village. There are many things that can be learnt from the novel, like – ambition should be backed by ethics not by mere desires and love should be backed by respect not by control.

What I liked

I liked R. K. Narayan’s captivating representation of the journey to self realisation. I think the book is much more than the story of an ordinary trickster and an oppressed, talented wife. It covers a much broader domain. An ordinary shopkeeper turns into a holy man. All the different identities that Raju had lived were part of his journey towards transforming into a wonderful human being. He was destined to be a guide, a true spiritual guide, who, for the first time, was guiding the villagers out of the drought. This selfless act ultimately leads to his redemption.

What I didn't like

There was nothing in the story that one could dislike. Only the ambiguous ending bothered me a little. Author left the climax open for the readers to imagine. I was hoping for a positive ending, hence just the thought that it could be the other way round also was disturbing. Other than this I cannot point out anything that i didn’t like about this story. A beautiful and simple story that guides us through the path of self improvement.

Recommendation - The Guide

This book is an outstanding representation of the complex human psyche and its implications for a person’s growth or downfall. All the characters flow organically with the story. Author didn’t idealise his hero nor did he demonize him. He grew at his own pace and the readers witnessed the adventurous journey of his transformation. The novel portrays life in all its glory and despair, with no doubt, it is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. A definite must read for all the lovers of Indian English literature.

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