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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374

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Margayya earns a modest living by providing financial advice and helping customers with loan applications and other financial procedures; he charges a small fee for this assistance. In his town, Malgudi, he has a stand under a tree outside the main bank, Central Co-operative Land Mortgage Bank. When the bank official decides he is being a nuisance, the guard chases him away.

Margayya decides that divine intervention, specifically his devotion to the Hindu goddess concerned with wealth, Lakshmi, will aid him in his endeavors. He increases his rituals of devotion and soon his affairs improve. Margayya's interpretation of this devotion, however, is slanted more toward money than towards the goddess or holy works. As the author reveals this flaw, he foreshadows Margayya's future (negative) experiences.

Margayya's new friend Dr. Pal, author of a sex manual that combines the classic Kama Sutra with modern Western psychology, inspires a change of business direction: to publish this manual. He enlists a local printer, Madan Lal, who quickly sees the commercial value of the work that they title Domestic Harmony. Its great success sparks Margayya's social and financial rise.

Meanwhile, Margayya barely heeds his wife's counsel or his son's education, paying attention to the latter only when he fails to gain admission to university. It turns out that Balu, the son, has grown up self-centered and lazy, interested only in a sinful life. Finally, Margayya listens to his wife's fears that Balu may have died in the city of Madras. He is found alive there, however, and returns to Malgudi to get married. His father's new moneylending business makes him truly prosperous

Dr. Pal plays an active role in helping Balu get matched to a lovely wife, and it seems that all is well. However, Pal is actually a bad influence on Balu, encouraging him to waste his time and money at Pal's club. When Margayya finds out, he becomes furious with Pal and physically attacks him. The doctor in turn spreads lies about the moneylender, lies which cause his business to collapse. When Balu, unsympathetic, asks for his inheritance, his father tells him it is his heritage to be a financial expert and tells him that he should begin afresh under the tree; Margayya himself has retired.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 710

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, “Bed-Life, or the Science of Marital Happiness,” and he decides to become the publisher of his manuscript rather than a seller of snuff or tooth powder—two possibilities that attract him now that he is almost penniless after his forty-day absence from his banyan-tree “office,” during which his son, Balu, has thrown his account book into a sewer canal.

Madan Lal, the proprietor of the Gordon Printery on Market Road, reads Pal’s manuscript and offers to publish it in partnership with Margayya under the title Domestic Harmony—though it is really an amalgam of the Kama Sutra and the writings of Havelock Ellis. Sold at one rupee a copy, Domestic Harmony (promoted as sociology but in reality a work of prurience) becomes Margayya’s means to unexpected riches and position (as secretary of the town elementary school—through a manipulated election).

Yet in spite of his newfound social status resulting from his increased wealth, Margayya is distressed by the lack of academic progress by his son Balu. Even after teachers are pressured, Balu fails to gain admission to a university and so runs away to Madras, confessing that he hates studies and examinations.

Word is received that Balu has died—but the cause is unknown. Margayya (to economize) takes a third-class train to Madras, where, with the help of an inspector of police, he learns that Balu is alive and that the postcard announcing his death was written by a madman, who is a cinema owner; Balu is the supervisor of street urchins who wear sandwich-board advertisements for films. After reconciliation, Margayya and Balu return to Malgudi.

After preliminary inquiries about a bride for Balu, Margayya is aided by Dr. Pal, who persuades an astrologer to manipulate horoscopes. Balu and his bride, Brinda, move into a fashionable new house, and Dr. Pal becomes a tout for Margayya, who decides to become a deposit-taker rather than a lender. He quickly achieves celebrity status, and he is virtually a currency-hoarder.

Balu has fallen under the influence of Dr. Pal, however, who is part owner of a “house of debauchery,” and Margayya assaults Dr. Pal, who then spreads rumors about Margayya’s bank being insolvent. There is a ruinous run on the bank, and even Balu’s house and property are attached. In about four months, Margayya, crushed, suggests that Balu take up the old, gray tin box and set up office under the banyan tree while he plays at home with his grandson.