The Guide by R. K. Narayan

  Within a week or ten days I found myself involved in court affairs. My sense of humor had completely ruined my relations with the Sait, and he had proceeded directly to get satisfaction through a court. My mother was distraught. I had not a friend in the world except Gaffur. I sought him out one day at the fountain parapet and told him where I stood. I was returning from the court. He was all sympathy and said, “Have you a lawyer?”

  “Yes. The one there over the cotton godown.”

  “Oh—he is the adjournment expert. He can keep the case going for years. So don’t worry. Is it a civil suit or criminal suit?”

  “Criminal! They have made out a case against me that, when he came to ask for his dues, I threatened to beat him. I wish I had done so!”

  “What a pity! If it were a civil case, it could go on for years, and you would be none the worse for it while it lasted. Have you got that in your house?” he asked slyly. I gave him a fierce look. And he said, “How can I blame a woman for what you are? . . . Why don’t you look after tourists again?”

  “I can’t go near the railway station now. The railway staff are going to depose against me, to prove that I beat people up.”

  “Is it true?”

  “Hm. If I catch the porter’s son, I’m going to wring his neck.”

  “Don’t do such things, Raju; you will not help yourself. You have brought sufficient confusion on yourself. Do pull yourself together. Why don’t you do sensible things?”

  I thought this over. I said, “If I had five hundred rupees, I could start a new life.” I outlined to him a plan to utilize Rosie’s services and make money. The thought of her warmed me up. “She is a gold-mine,” I cried. “If I had money to start her with—oh!” My visions soared. I said to him, “You know Bharat Natvam is really the greatest art business today. There is such a craze for it that people will pay anything to see the best. I cannot do anything about it because I have no money. Can’t you help me, Gaffur?” He was amused at my request. It was now my turn to feel upset at laughter. I said, “I have done so much for your business.”

  He was essentially a man of heart. He appealed to my reason. “I’m not a rich man, Raju. You know how I borrow money for even the upkeep of the car. If I had five hundred, I’d let my passengers ride on better tires. No, no, Raju. . . . Listen to my advice. Send her away and try to get back to ordinary, real life. Don’t talk all this art business. It’s not for us.”

  On hearing this, I grew so upset that I said something to hurt him. He got back into his driving seat with a serious face. “If you like a drive any time, call me; that’s all I can do to help you. And, remember, I’m not asking for the old dues from you—”

  “Set it off against the commission due to me for all your Peak House trips,” I said haughtily.

  “Very well,” he said, and started his car. “Call me any time you may want the car; it’s always there. I pray that God may give you better sense.” He was off. I knew here was another friend passing out of my life.

  I had a little money still left in the savings, although I gave no hint of it to anyone. A couple of days after the Sait’s coming, I drew the entire amount from the bank. I did not want it to be seized. This was keeping us. I had a small lawyer handling my case in the court. I had to give him part of my money for court fees and such things. He had his office in the attic of a cotton shop in Market Road—a choking place with one shelf of books, one table, one chair, and one bench for clients. He had spotted me on the very first day while I was loitering with terror in my eyes, obeying the first summons. He had ingratiated himself into my favor while I waited in the corridor. He asked, “Did you hit the Sait, really? Speak the truth to me.”

  “No, sir. It’s a lie.”

  “Evidently they want to bring in a criminal motive to quicken the procedure. We will dispute that first, and then the civil; we’ve a lot of time. Don’t worry. I’ll deal with all that. How much money have you in your pocket?”

  “Only five rupees.”

  “Give it here.” If I had said “two” he’d probably have been content to take that. He pocketed it, held up a sheet of paper for my signature, and said, “That’s right. It fixes all your affairs up nicely.”

  At the court I was asked to go behind an enclosure while the judge looked at me. The Sait was there with his notebook, and he had his lawyer, of course; we glared at each other. His lawyer said something; my five-rupee lawyer said something, gesticulating in my direction; and the court servant patted my back and told me to go. My lawyer nodded to me. It was all over before I could understand anything. My lawyer met me outside. “Managed to get an adjournment. I’ll tell you the next date later. Meet me at my office, over the cotton godown—come by the staircase on the side lane.” He was off. If this was all the bother there was, I felt I could get through it easily. I was in excellent hands.

  I told my mother on returning from the court, “There is nothing to worry about, Mother; it’s going nicely.”

  “He may throw us out of this house. Where will you go after that?”

  “Oh, all that will take a long time. Don’t unduly burden your mind,” I cried.

  She gave me up in despair. “I don’t know what is coming over you. You don’t take anything seriously nowadays.”

  “It’s because I know what to worry about; that’s all,” I said grandly.

  Nowadays our domestic discussions were carried on in the presence of Rosie. No privacy was needed; we had got used to her. Rosie behaved as if she did not hear these domestic matters. She looked fixedly at the floor or at the pages of a book (the only things I managed to salvage from our shop), and moved off to a corner of the hall, as if to be out of earshot. She did not, even when she was alone with me, embarrass me by asking any question about our affairs.

  My mother had adjusted herself to my ways as an unmitigated loafer, and I thought she had resigned herself to them. But she had her own scheme of tackling me. One morning as I was watching Rosie’s footwork with the greatest concentration, my uncle dropped in like a bolt from the blue. He was my mother’s elder brother, an energetic landowner in my mother’s village who had inherited her parents’ home and was a sort of general adviser and director of all our family matters. Marriages, finances, funerals, litigation, for everything he was consulted by all the members of the family—my mother and her three sisters, scattered in various parts of the district. He seldom left his village, as he conducted most of his leadership by correspondence. I knew my mother was in touch with him—a postcard a month, closely written, from him would fill her with peace and happiness for weeks and she would ceaselessly talk about it. It was his daughter whom she wanted me to marry—a proposal which she fortunately pushed into the background, in view of recent developments.

  Here entered the man himself, standing at the door and calling in his booming voice, “Sister!” I scrambled to my feet and ran to the door. My mother came hurrying from the kitchen. Rosie stopped her practice. The man was six feet, darkened by the sun from working in the fields, and had a small knotted tuft on his skull; he wore a shirt with an upper cloth, his dhoti was brown, not white like a townsman’s. He carried a bag of jute material in his hand (with a green print of Mahatma Gandhi on it), and a small trunk. He went straight to the kitchen, took out of the bag a cucumber, a few limes, and plantains and greens, saying, “These are for my sister, grown in our gardens.” He placed them on the floor of the kitchen for his sister. He gave a few instructions as to how to cook them.

  My mother became very happy at the sight of him. She said, “Wait, I’ll give you coffee.”

  He stood there explaining how he came by a bus, what he had been doing when he received my mother’s letter, and so on and so forth. It was a surprise to me to know that she had written to him to come. She had not told me. “You never told me you wrote to Uncle!” I said.

  “Why should she tell you?” snapped my uncle. “As if you were her master!” I knew he was trying to pick a quarrel with me. He lowered his voice to
a whisper, pulled me down by the collar of my shirt, and asked, “What is all this one hears about you? Very creditable development you are showing, my boy. Anybody would be proud of you!” I wriggled myself free and frowned. He said, “What has come over you? You think yourself a big man? I can’t be frightened of scapegraces like you. Do you know what we do when we get an intractable bull calf? We castrate it. We will do that to you, if you don’t behave.”

  My mother went on minding the boiling water as if she didn’t notice what went on between us. I had thought she would come to my support, but she seemed to enjoy my predicament, having designed it herself. I felt confused and angry. I walked out of the place. This man attacking me in my own house, within five minutes of arrival! I felt too angry. As I moved out I could overhear my mother speaking to him in whispers. I could guess what she was saying. I went back to my mat, rather shaken.

  Rosie was standing where I had left her with her hip slightly out, her arm akimbo. She was like one of those pillar carvings in the temples. The sight of her filled me with a sudden nostalgia for the days when I took people to see the old temples and I sighed for the variety of life and contacts and experience I used to have. Rosie looked a little scared. “Who is he?” she asked in a low tone.

  “Don’t bother about him. He must be crazy. You don’t have to worry.”

  That was enough for her. My guidance was enough. She accepted it in absolutely unquestioning faith and ignored everything else completely. It gave me a tremendous confidence in myself and seemed to enhance my own dimensions. I told her, “You need not stop your dance. You may go on with it.”

  “But, but—” She indicated my uncle.

  “Forget his existence completely,” I said. I was in a very challenging mood, but inside me I trembled still to think what my uncle might have to say. “You don’t have to bother about anyone except me,” I said with sudden authority. (My uncle used to be called in to frighten me when I was a boy.) “This is my house. I do as I please here. If people don’t like me, they need not visit me; that is all.” I laughed weakly.

  What was the use of pouring out all these challenging statements to this girl? She resumed her song and dance, and I sat observing her, with extra attention as if I were her teacher. I observed my uncle peep out of the kitchen, and so I made myself more deliberately teacherlike. I issued commands and directions to Rosie. My uncle watched my antics from the kitchen. Rosie went on with her practice as if she were in her private room. My uncle presently came over to watch, his eyes bulging with contempt and cynicism. I ignored him completely. He watched for a moment, and let out a loud, “Hm! So this is what is keeping you busy! Hm! Hm! Never dreamed that anyone in our family would turn out to be a dancer’s backstage boy!”

  I remained silent for a while before mustering courage and resolution to attack him. He mistook my silence for fear and brought out another of his broadsides. “Your father’s spirit will be happy to see you now, literally groveling at the feet of a dancing girl.”

  He was out to provoke me. I turned round and said, “If you have come to see your sister, you had better go in and stay with her. Why do you come where I am?”

  “Aha!” he cried, delighted. “Good to see some spirit in you. There is still hope for you, although you need not try it on your uncle first. Did I not mention a moment ago what we do to recalcitrant bull calves?” He was squatting on the floor now, sipping his coffee.

  “Don’t be vulgar,” I said. “At your age too!”

  “Hey, wench!” he cried to Rosie, addressing her in the singular, or something even lower than singular. “Now stop your music and all those gesticulations and listen to me. Are you of our family?” He waited for an answer. She stopped her dance and simply stared at him. He said, “You are not of our family? Are you of our clan?” He again waited for her to answer and answered himself. “No. Are you of our caste? No. Our class? No. Do we know you? No. Do you belong to this house? No. In that case, why are you here? After all, you are a dancing girl. We do not admit them in our families. Understand? You seem to be a good, sensible girl. You should not walk into a house like this and stay on. Did anyone invite you? No. Even if you are invited you should go on staying where you belong, and not too long there. You cannot stay like this in our house. It is very inconvenient. You should not be seducing young fools, deserting your husband. Do you follow?” She sank down at this onslaught, covering her face with her hands. My uncle was evidently gratified at the success of his efforts, and proceeded to drive home his point. “You see, you should not pretend to cry at these things. You must understand why we say such things. You must clear out by the next train. You must promise to go. We will give you money for your railway ticket.”

  At this a big sob burst from her. I was completely maddened by it. I flew at my uncle and knocked the cup out of his hand, shouting, “Get out of this house.”

  He picked himself up, saying, “You tell me to get out. Has it come to this? Who are you, puppy, to ask me to get out? I’ll make you get out. This is my sister’s house. You go out if you want enjoyment with dancing girls—”

  My mother came running out of the kitchen with tears in her eyes. She flew straight at the sobbing Rosie, crying, “Are you now satisfied with your handiwork, you she-devil, you demon. Where have you dropped on us from? Everything was so good and quiet—until you came; you came in like a viper. Bah! I have never seen anyone work such havoc on a young fool! What a fine boy he used to be! The moment he set his eyes on you, he was gone. On the very day I heard him mention the ‘serpent girl’ my heart sank. I knew nothing good could come out of it.” I didn’t interrupt my mother; I allowed her all the speech she wanted to work off feelings she had bottled up all these weeks. She then catalogued all my misdeeds down to my latest appearance in the court, and how I was going to lose even this house, so laboriously built by my father.

  The girl looked up with her tear-drenched face and said amidst sobs, “I will go away, Mother. Don’t speak so harshly. You were so good to me all these days.”

  My uncle now interrupted to tell his sister, “This is your mistake, sister. That wench is right in a way. Why should you have been so good to her? You should have told her at the beginning what was what.”

  I seemed powerless to suppress this man or send him away. He said what he liked and stayed where he liked. Unless I physically pushed him out, there was no way of saving poor Rosie; but he could knock me flat if I laid hands on him. I was appalled at the somersault in my mother’s nature the moment she got support in the shape of a brother. I went over to Rosie, put my arm around her to the shock of the two (my uncle cried, “The fellow has lost all shame!”), and whispered to her, “Shut your ears to all that they say. Let them say what they like. Let them exhaust themselves. But you are not leaving. I’m going to be here, and you are going to be here. Others who don’t like the arrangement are welcome to leave.”

  Thus they went on a little longer, and when they could say nothing more they retired to the kitchen. I never spoke a word more. I learned a great secret, that of shutting my ears, and I felt happy that Rosie too could put herself through this hardening process, absolutely relying on my support. She lifted her head and sat up, watching the household coldly. My mother called me in to eat when food was ready. I took care to see that Rosie was also fed. My mother didn’t call us until she had fed my uncle on the vegetables he had brought and had cooked them according to his specifications. After food he went over to the pyol, spread out his upper cloth, sat on it munching pan, and then lay down on the cool floor to sleep. I felt relieved to hear his snores. The calm after the storm was absolute. My mother served us food without looking at us. A great silence reigned in the house. It continued until three-thirty in the afternoon.

  My uncle renewed the fight by coming in to announce to all whom it might concern, “An hour more for the train. Is the passenger ready?” He looked at Rosie sitting below a window and reading. She looked up, disturbed. I never left her side that whole afternoon
. Whatever people might say, I wanted to be near at hand to support her. As long as my uncle remained in town there could be no relaxation of the vigil. I’d have given anything to know when my uncle would be leaving. But he was a man of independent notions and was not affected by my genuine desire to have him go.

  Rosie looked up, slightly scared. I held a hand up to give her courage. My mother came out of her corner and, looking kindly at Rosie, said, “Well, young woman, it has been nice having you, but you know, it is time for you to go.” She was trying new tactics now, of kindliness and a make-believe that Rosie had agreed to leave. “Rosie, girl, you know the train is at four-thirty. Have you packed up all your things? I found your clothes scattered here and there.”

  Rosie blinked unhappily. She did not know how to answer. I intervened to say, “Mother, she is not going anywhere.”

  My mother appealed to me. “Have some sense, Raju. She is another man’s wife. She must go back to him.”

  There was such calm logic in what she said, I had nothing more to do but repeat blindly, “She can’t go anywhere, Mother. She has got to stay here.”

  And then my mother brought out her trump card. “If she is not going, I have to leave the house,” she said.

  My uncle said, “Did you think she was helpless, and only a dependent on you?” He thumped his chest and cried, “As long as I am breathing, I will never let down a sister.”

  I appealed to my mother. “You don’t have to go, Mother.”

  “Then throw that wench’s trunk out and give her a push toward the railway, and your mother will stay. What do you take her for? You think she is the sort that can keep company with all kinds of dancing—”

  “Shut up, Uncle,” I said, and I was taken aback by my own temerity. I feared he might repeat his threat to recalcitrant bulls. Fortunately, he said, “Who are you, puppy, to say if I am to shut up or speak? You think I notice you? Are you sending that . . . that . . . out or not? That’s all we want to know.”

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]