Dismayed by the current political climate? Finding yourself saying #IGuessImWithHer as opposed to a candidate who seems to be trolling all of us? I guess it was timely that I started reading R.K. Narayan’s book The Guide this way, so I can reflect on the concepts of deception and self-deception.
I mean, I struggled with this book to be honest, just as I am struggling to accept Hillary. I will never vote for a Republican, so Trump is out of the question. What I want to delve into are actually the stories we tell ourselves about which candidate deserves our vote. The book was a timely tool, a way to see things behind the scenes.
Narayan’s The Guide follows the story of a Raju from the fictional town of Malgudi in India. Fresh out of prison with nowhere to go and no one to come home to, he set up camp at an old temple by the river. Slowly, locals started coming to seek his guidance as though he was a monk or a swami sent from the heavens. His disposition, his clothes and even his appearance started earning him the trust of the closest village folks who came bearing gifts and food. His thoughts became teachings, and he continued to keep this up for the purpose of survival.
He spoke to them on godliness, cleanliness, spoke on Ramayana, the characters in the epics; he addressed them on all kinds of things. He was hypnotized by his own voice; he felt himself growing in stature as he the upturned faces of the children shining in the half-light when he spoke. No one was more impressed with the grandeur of the whole thing than Raju himself.
But Raju was no monk, nor was he a yogi. Having brought up by the railways of Malgudi where his father’s business once was, he sought to make a name for himself by delving into different kinds of businesses. His father had a small convenience store and after his death, Raju took over. But he was smart, observant and knew when opportunities came up. He discovered that: 1) he could diversify his business by responding to the needs of travelers (he started selling books and other printed materials) and 2) he could capitalize on tourism (he became known as “Railway Raju” to many).
I read stuff that interested me, bored me, baffled me, and dozed off in my seat. I read stuff that pricked up a noble thought, a philosophy that appealed, I gazed on pictures of old temples and ruins and new buildings and battleships, and soldiers and pretty girls around whom my thoughts lingered. I learned much from scrap.
What started out as an honest attempt to become something greater than what he was led to feats of grandiosity and deceit that eventually led to his imprisonment. He became a tour guide in spite of lack of adequate knowledge about Malgudi, its landscape, its geography. Information he relayed was dependent not only on time given, or what tourists wanted to see, but primarily by the money they had and/or the prestige that came with it.
Malgudi and its surroundings were my special show. I could let a man have a peep at it or a whole panorama. It was adjustable. I could give them a glimpse of a few hours or soak them in mountain and river scenery or archaeology for a whole week. I could not really decide how much to give or withhold until I knew how much cash the man carried or, if he carried a checkbook, how good it was. This was another delicate point.
Many times Raju relied on stories he told himself as ultimate truths, avoiding the harshness and pain that came with his reality. He fell in love with a tourist’s wife (Rosie), he believed that she would leave her husband for him, he was left heartbroken. He eventually gained Rosie back but that was because she had nowhere else to go. He believed that she came back because of him, and he devoted all his time and money to whatever she pursued. He became wealthy and prestigious. But he wasn’t loved the way he thought he was. At a sudden turn of events, he was imprisoned because of a document that he forged out of fear of losing her.
I finished the book needing to think about it even more. No extraordinary thing happened, nor were there unusual conflicts. What unsettled me about it is that I felt like I gained nothing, learned nothing after ten days with the text. And then it hit me — what Narayan created with Raju and his circumstances were not far from our everyday lives or the people we encounter daily. The beauty of The Guide is that it illuminates what we so often overlook, and how it extracts what we should be paying attention to in the midst of our routines. It serves as a reflection of what we endeavor as people, guided by ideals of our communities and influenced by the greater society.
Not just an individual dilemma, we can become blind to what is essential when the main narrative gets clouded. The onslaught of American mainstream media can have us thinking that 1) it’s really between Trump and Hillary and that 2) if we want a progressive administration our only choice is the latter (cue heavy sighs here). And I’m not alone in this.
In a recent CBS News poll, 67 percent of respondents found Hillary Clinton to be dishonest, and 56 percent thought the same of Donald Trump. Although those numbers may be similarly high, few would contend that Clinton’s and Trump’s deceptions — broadly construed to include exaggerations and omissions — are the same.
The article from The Washington Post states that Trump’s deceptions are more offensive, while Hillary’s are defensive. While Trump’s narratives are mostly self-promotional, Hillary on the other hand are to try to “save face.” So which is better: self-promotional lies or self-protecting lies? The study suggests that we are more inclined to believe Hillary as morally acceptable.
But there’s more. From the same article:
No one will ever know what exactly Clinton’s intentions were with her private email server, but anyone could find that the majority of Mexican immigrants are not, in fact, criminals and rapists. This makes Clinton’s deceptions appear more like “cover-ups,” Gingo says, which harms her public perception.
This is no surprise to a well-read psychologist. A 2006 literature review covering 206 studies on lie detection found that people who are motivated to be believed tend to appear more deceptive to others. Cover-ups, which tend to be planned and calculated, have more of this motivation behind them than Trump’s off-the-cuff statements.
It dawned on me that perhaps the biggest deception there is, is that with election comes the leader and change we are genuinely seeking. There was a lot of that sentiment back in 2008 when Barack Obama won, as his campaign fueled by change and hope brought the first Black president to the White House.
The truth is — no matter who sits in the Oval Office, we’re still bound by the same system that operates with imperial lust, capital greed. No candidate can ever change that, because history will show us that those who get elected in countries like the U.S. will only act to defend and uphold the status quo. Same system, same results.
So where does that leave us? Probably in the same predicament as Railway Raju, whose self-deceptions only mirrored what his society dictated at that time.
But it was like hiding a corpse. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing in this world can be hidden or suppressed. All such attempts are like holding an umbrella to conceal the sun.
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All artwork featured on this post are by Gillian Lambert.
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.