The very title of the Narayan’s ‘The Guide’ is ambiguous since the main character, Raju, is a tour guide. But he is also believed to be a spiritual guide, ‘believed’ because the readers and even Raju himself know he is not. But that statement is debatable when the whole story has been read. Implicit within that statement is the ambiguity.
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There’s the Raju who is a tour guide and who leads Rosie into self-realization, and there’s Raju the spiritual guide. The other side of the coin is that Raju ultimately is guided into selflessness: “if by not eating I can help the trees bloom and the grass grow, why not do it thoroughly?” (Narayan, 1992, p. 219).
But beyond the superficially comic story of a rogue, Narayan explores a number of aspects of the Indian society within which this story was composed.
The Themes of Traditional Culture, Hindu Values and Colonialism
Narayan explicitly speaks on traditional morality. The central Indian philosophy argues that deviation from traditionally accepted norms is a major cause of disorder and unhappiness (Literary Articles, 2010). The main advocate for this theme is the main character, Raju himself.
The book opens as he is just out of prison. It is learnt that he had been jailed for living with another man’s wife. But more than going against norms and the law, Raju’s relationship with Rosie who she brings home, becomes the reason for the conflict between him and his mother.
Equally, for as long as Raju is intentionally lying to his spiritual subjects, he is constantly at war with himself (Literary Articles, 2010). He feels guilt, especially against Velan, the loyal disciple. But when he makes the choice to be honest with the role that the disciples have entrusted to him, he finds peace. His imprisonment absolves him of his past and now he takes a new journey that leads him to salvation.
All this is engulfed under the Hindu value of selflessness. From the start, the story of Raju is on whether he will become a man who does things for the genuine sake of others. Through sacrifice he shifts from skepticism to idealism (Literary Articles, 2010).
All these aspects of Indian society are played against the backdrop of colonialism. Elements of the colonialists’ reign are around, and govern the decisions and choices that the people make.
As the novel opens, we witness the ideological battle between Raju and his father. While Raju wishes to study at Albert Mission School, his father feels: “I don’t want my son to study there; it seems they want to convert our sons into Christians and are constantly insulting our gods” (Narayan, 1992, p. 7).
But the very fact that Raju feels different is already a warning sign for the traditional education and career development under the ancient master. In other words this is a modern India, and there is a complex interplay of forces; a combination of the critical aspects of the Western world and the usable past of India (Paranjape, 2011). This is the world in which Nehru-Mahalanobis’ model of economy is relevant (Sarkar, 2011).
Raju’s adventure, from childhood to adulthood, is a reflection of that Indian modernity as defined by colonialism- not just the social and cultural evolution but also an articulation and arbitration of its various stances and attitudes (Paranjape, 2011).
Samuel Selvon’s ‘A Brighter Sun’
‘A Brighter Sun’ is set in Trinidad during the Second World War. The story centers on Tiger a young native Indian who is pushed into an arranged marriage at the early age of 16 (Lionessence, 2011). Tiger, by custom, must now leave home with his young bride so the two of them can make a living.
It is a big struggle for Tiger, who has suddenly graduated from childhood to adulthood and must now be a man; he must prove his manhood not just to himself but to his wife and mostly to his family back home (Lionessence, 2011).
The book traces Tiger’s journey; his search for and effort to assert his manhood and independence. In this journey we come into contact with the whole of his society. Tiger and his family, his interaction with the neighbors and his journey to the town is the symbol of his society; the poverty, deprivations and a cultural conflict in the face of neocolialism brought about by the US’s military base in Trinidad.
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The Poverty, Deprivations and Loss of Cultural Identity, and Hope
As Tiger and his wife, Urmilla, sets off to start a life, they have just two hundred dollars, a cow, a daub shack and wattle. Not only are they poor, but they are also young and ignorant (Lionessence, 2011).
Throughout the book, we see and feel the sense of dissatisfaction that tiger feels. It is the dissatisfaction that everyone feels. Racism has cut them off good schools, education, healthcare and jobs among others and their culture is dying under the weight of the western culture that is appealing in its novelty. But in spite of all these, there is a constant feeling of hope in the book.
Tiger starts to teach himself how to read and write. His peers constantly mock him, but he does not stop. In spite of his background with no formal education and good times were the times that he stayed in the sugarcane fields, Tiger dreams big (Lionessence, 2011).
At some point he decides he would become a politician so he would fight for the rights of his people, all Trinidadians. He says, “everybody rights, not only Indian’ (Selvon, 1979, p.187).
In this statement lies the hope that racism will die. By sharing a common leader who speaks on behalf of them and their shared problems, the people are likely to come and unite. Just that Tiger is dreaming big is in itself a ‘miracle’.
The things he’s been through should be enough to kill him. Instead they have not killed his spirit and he sees beyond his four walls and does not merely learn to write and read. To him, these are tools to a better world.
The biggest significance of Tiger’s ambition is that it reflects the possibility that the people of Trinidad can see beyond the present and dream big. Tiger is only a representative. Otherwise, it is very likely that many other people, in their own private lives, are also thinking as he is. In that dream lies the hope for the future (Lionessence, 2011).
As the novel ends, Tiger is 21. He has come to find comfort in hard work, he’s less restless, and is more aware that life is complex (Lionessence). When Urmilla returns from Chaguanas, she comes home to a more grown-up Tiger. In his last words he says, “is good time for planting corn” (Selvon, 1979, p. 239). The title of the book; ‘A Brighter Sun’, sums it all.
Lionessence (2011). Book Review: A Brighter Sun. Theories of Anything. Web.
Literary Articles (2010). The Picture of the Indian Society as Reflected in R.K. Narayan’s The Guide. Web.
Narayan, R.,K. (1992). The Guide. Delhi: Penguin Classics.
Paranjape, M. (2011). The Reluctant Guru: R.K. Narayan and The Guide. Web.
Sarkar, L. (2011). R.K. Narayan’s The Guide: A Socio-Economic Discourse. The Criterion: An International Journal in English, 2 (3): 123-132.
Selvon, S. (1979). A Brighter Sun. Trinidad: Longman Caribbean Writers.