Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 706
Characters in The Mystic Masseur are either Ganesh's helpers or else adversaries over whom he can triumph. Beharry, a shopkeeper in Fuente Grove, is a helper, one of the few people in town who can read and a person who believes Ganesh is of a higher caste and therefore worthy...
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Characters in The Mystic Masseur are either Ganesh's helpers or else adversaries over whom he can triumph. Beharry, a shopkeeper in Fuente Grove, is a helper, one of the few people in town who can read and a person who believes Ganesh is of a higher caste and therefore worthy of cultivation. Leela, Ganesh's wife, is his helper (unless she is irritated with his laziness), as is the Great Belcher, an aunt who gives Ganesh old Hindu books which he uses in his cures.
Ramlogan, Leela's father and a wily shopkeeper, who never fails to pursue his self-interest under the hypocritical guises of friend and father-in-law, is one of Ganesh's chief adversaries. Although Ramlogan makes arrangements for the funeral of Ganesh's father, it is with the goal of capturing Ganesh, a person of higher caste, as a son-in-law. Under the guise of friend, Ramlogan, who pretends to be "modern" like Ganesh, seeks to dispense with a dowry. Ganesh, while something of a fool throughout the novel, nonetheless sees through Ramlogan's plan and forces money out of him through the manipulation of Eastern and Western traditions. During a ceremony in which the bridegroom is ceremonially bribed to eat kedgeree, Ganesh forces Ramlogan's generosity. Later, Ganesh writes a newspaper article about Ramlogan's great gift in establishing a cultural center in the nearly treeless Fuente Grove which again squeezes Ramlogan's purse.
Indarsingh, a Trinidadian educated at Oxford, and Narayan, a critic of Ganesh's later success, are Ganesh's adversaries in the political arena. Indarsingh loses an election to Ganesh because his acquired British identity causes him to totally misread Trinidad's Indian population. To defeat his former Queens College friend, Ganesh exploits his Indian heritage. Narayan, who hoped to manage a large grant from an Indian industrialist, loses his political hold when Ganesh fills Narayan's organization with his own cronies.
The narrator, who appears in the story significantly at the beginning and the end, is neither a helper nor an adversary. At the beginning, he is a young black boy whose mother brings him to Ganesh for medical help. Although Ganesh's treatment is unsuccessful, the boy is impressed by Ganesh's books and finds him amusing. At the end of the novel, as a student at an English university in 1954, the narrator is to be host to one of his countrymen, G. R. Muir, Esq., M.B.E. The narrator's guest turns out to be a haughty Ganesh. The narrator, subject to the same vices of vanity and hypocrisy one sees in the other characters, has a double reaction to Ganesh — he likes him, even as an adult student in England, but he knows Ganesh's weaknesses, the lies in Ganesh's autobiography, The Years of Guilt, and his many foolish whims and petty vanities.
Ganesh is a delightful comic character. Lazy and dull, he nevertheless manages to forge a respectable and successful career. At times, when he is working as a strike negotiator or healing, he almost seems admirable. The enjoyment of seeing Ganesh get the better of his adversaries is that of seeing one confidence man outwit another.
The cure of a black boy pursued by the hostile black cloud shows Ganesh at his best. This cloud is a projection of the boy's guilt over the death of his brother. The guilt resulted from the boy's sending his brother on an errand in which he was run over by a truck. Ganesh tries to rid his "patient" of guilt and pretends to see the boy's cloud. Ganesh, after establishing the mood with religious paraphernalia and Hindu chants, creates a visible black cloud that quickly dissipates. Although Ganesh fools the boy and his family, he does cure the child. Greedy but caring, a trickster who also privately prays for the success of his trick, Ganesh advises the family, "If you want to send me anything, send it. But don't go around telling all sorts of people about me." Ganesh knows that the family will tell everyone about him and send him more money than they can afford in gratitude. But Naipaul does not linger on Ganesh's successes; he rushes through Ganesh's political career, collapsing ten years of Ganesh's life in fifty pages, so that readers see more of Ganesh's struggle than his success.