Margayya who adopted his name, which means “one who shows the way”), a financial expert, is one of the minor businessmen who are to be found in most Indian towns and cities. Neither a moneylender nor really a banker, he is a manipulator of others’ affairs who accumulates a modest income by giving financial advice, selling forms, and showing illiterate farmers and peasants how to obtain loans from the Central Co-operative Land Mortgage Bank in Malgudi. His role as middleman is lucrative, for he has almost no overhead: His pen, ink, blotter, and account book are contained in an old, gray tin box that he carries with him and that constitutes his office when he sits under a banyan tree across the lawn from the bank. When he is rebuked by Arul Doss, the chief peon of the bank, for being a nuisance on the premises (normally trying to obtain loan application forms or even new clients), Margayya decides that large sums of money—necessary for the type of life and position in society of which he judges himself deserving—are not to be made from villagers’ small transactions; rather, they are to be made by devotions to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, whose favors to the elect are almost boundless.
A priest from a run-down local temple prescribes special rituals for obtaining the favor of Lakshmi: mixing the ashes of a red lotus with the milk of a smoke-colored cow, exorcising rodents and cockroaches from his house, decorating the doorways with mango-leaf garlands, and repeating a special mantra a thousand times daily for forty days. The result is that Margayya becomes a devotee not of Lakshmi but of money itself.
During his search for the red lotus, Margayya meets Dr. Pal, author of a 150-page manuscript,...
(The entire section is 710 words.)