is powerful story about spiritual transformation and self-realization. The narrative itself is both fantastical and comical, as the path the main character, Raju, takes to understanding is not intentional. In essence, Narayan’s story shows how a man intent on deception, including self-deception, comes to find clarity based in large part on his life of deception.
Raju lives in a quaint village called Malgudi. In Malgudi, Raju aspires to be whatever other people want him to be. As such, he is a chameleon of a character, always becoming someone based on someone’s current need. One such example of Raju’s malleability is when he begins managing a shop at the Malgudi train station, and is known by the village people as “Railway Raju.” In this role, Raju bills himself as an expert guide, and professes to be able to obtain any and all items a person is searching for.
Raju also meets Rosie, a gorgeous dancer, and becomes her lover. He also becomes Rosie’s guide, and aids her in making the decision to become a professional dancer. His advice pays off, and Rosie soon becomes famous on account of her dancing skills. With this new opportunity, Raju becomes “Raj,” an influential man with an elevated social standing, thanks to Rosie. Things seem to be looking up for Raju, and yet complications soon arise.
Raju eventually ends up in prison because of his machinations. While there, Raju again changes his persona and causes others to not only respect him, but to like him and come to his aid if need be. The reader can see by this point in the novel that Raju has an uncanny ability to effect change in other people, as well as in himself, and yet he does not realize the extraordinary power he holds. He sees his ability as a survival mechanism and nothing more.
Raju is finally released from prison, but is unsure where to go or what to even do with his life at this point. He does not want to return home to Malgudi because he does not want to deal with all the gossip and rejection he is sure will be there waiting for him. Instead, Raju takes shelter in an abandoned temple. In this holy place on the banks of the Sarayu River, Raju is able to think a bit more and give himself time to come up with his next plan.
While hiding out in the temple, Raju meets a strange man named Velan. The two begin talking and discussing life, and after a time, Velan actually thinks of Raju as a holy man. With his talent for becoming whatever is beneficial to his circumstances, Raju picks up on Velan’s mistake and plays along with the ruse. When Raju is later forced to admit that he is not a holy man after all and subsequently must reveal where he is from and who he really is, he is somewhat shocked to find that his admission and guilt, which he initially thought would free him from the burdensome role of a holy man, actually has the opposite effect he was looking for.
His revelation of the truth actually propels him further into the role of a holy man, thus making Raju’s malleability a path that has brought him to this point, the true incarnation of a “Swamiji,” a holy man. The reader sees in the narrative that, at this point in Raju’s transformation, he is finally able to overcome his previous need to be whatever people wanted him to be. He no longer needs to be everything to everybody, and has come to a place where he genuinely serves others from a place of selflessness. At this moment, his past endeavors, including his ties to Malgudi, prison, Rosie, and fame, all peel away. Raju sees himself for what he truly is, just another individual. With this clarity, he is now able to help others without an ulterior motive. His path has become clear, and he follows it selflessly.
Raju’s transition from conman to holy man is both comical and didactic
. Narayan’s narrative shows how people can be destined for great things without even realizing it. At the same time, it shows how people’s pasts are not entirely what defines them. People can change and do good in life. They can go from self-centered individuals to people of character, like Raju. Ultimately, perhaps, the narrative shows that there are often greater forces at work than what mankind perceives in a moment of choice, whether a good choice or not. There is hope for mankind, despite outward appearances. Raju’s journey is testament to this hope.