An Astrologer’s Day Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of An Astrologer’s Day by R. K. Narayan.
The short story “An Astrologer’s Day” by R. K. Narayan (Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami) follows a man posing as an astrologer meeting the man he once tried to kill. Originally published in Hindi, the piece, along with twenty-nine other short stories by Narayan, was first published in English in 1947.
The short story contains strong themes that are apparent through Narayan’s creative work, including deception, revenge, and the ironies of life. “An Astrologer’s Day” combines suspense, realism, and thriller genres.
The third-person, omniscient narrator begins by describing a day in the life of an astrologer. As opposed to astronomers who are scientists by training and study the physical properties of the universe, astrologers follow the pseudo-science of predicting the future based on the speculative motions of the stars, moons, and other planets.
The astrologer lays out all of his professional equipment, including Ancient Syrian writing and enigmatic cloth charts. Many people mistake the piercing glare of his eyes for intelligence and the rare ability to tell the future, but really, he is just really good at looking for gullible customers. He also uses makeup and a turban on his head to make himself appear more mystical and thus a quality source for prophecies; no one can reliably recognize him.
The astrologer sells prophecies in a busy market with low-quality facilities. The dingy lights, often powered by gas, cast a mysterious quality on the astrologer. The narrator notes that the astrologer cannot really tell the future, but he is good at reading people and telling them whatever it is they want to hear; in fact, it only takes him five minutes to deduce if the individual is having issues with love or money. He knows there are certain vague statements that will stroke the ego of any individual: “Is there a female who dislikes you?” “You are not being justly rewarded for your work.” “People find you intimidating, though you are kind on the inside.” As this is a service, the narrator casts no judgment on the astrologer for what he does for a living.
The narrator gives the backstory of the young astrologer. He left his small village because he did not want to be an overworked farmer like all of his male ancestors. It is also hinted that he is running away from one of his misdeeds. To escape his fate, he travels by foot to a city more than two hundred miles away.
One day, the astrologer starts to pack up at the end of the day, because the neighboring nuts stand has turned off the green light for the day; the green light was a vital part of his act. Before he leaves, a stranger accosts him, saying that he is not a real astrologer.
The astrologer says he only charges pennies per question. The man pulls out the equivalent of a dollar and says he has some questions for the astrologer; if he answers correctly, he can keep the dollar. The astrologer bargains for a higher price, and the dual begins.
The stranger smokes while the astrologer begins his process. The stranger is clearly aggressive and rude. The astrologer figures it has been a long day, and the challenge is not worth the money. He tells the stranger to come back another time, but the stranger physically restrains him, and tells the astrologer to answer yes or no: should the stranger continue with his current quest? The astrologer insists on a few incantations and thinks about the man’s situation. He then asks if the man has ever been left for dead; he has. The astrologer asks if it was a knife. The stranger, with increasing amazement, reveals a scar left on his chest by a blade.
The astrologer then says that the man was left for dead after being pushed into a well. This turns out to be true. The stranger, amazed, asks when he should get his revenge on the person who assaulted him. The astrologer then calls his name—Guru Nayak—and says that the man he seeks vengeance against died four months ago. Nayak is amazed—there is no way the astrologer could have known his name. The astrologer replies, simply, that he knows many things.
The astrologer warns Nayak to never journey south of this village. If he does so, he will surely be killed. But if he goes home, which is a forty-eight-hour train ride north, then Nayak can live well into old age.
Nayak says that that will not be a problem. He only journeyed south to murder this individual. The only thing he regrets is that he could not have made the man’s death more gruesome. Fortunately, the astrologer says he was crushed under a bus—it was, in fact, a terrifying death. Nayak is pleased by this news.
The astrologer picks up his things and heads home. He is late, and his wife is angry at his tardiness. But then he hands her the large bag of coins that he procured from Nayak. She is thrilled by the good fortune.
After a nice dinner, the astrologer confesses to his wife that long ago, when he was a teenager, he was the one who pushed Nayak down the well and left him to die. The two had been gambling and drinking; they got into a huge fight at the end, and in a fit of rage, the astrologer stuck a knife into Nayak and threw him down a well. But now that he knows Nayak did not die, the astrology feels that he can sleep with a light heart now.
The astrologer's predominant characteristic at this stage of his life is being able to ironically laugh at himself. This is revealed in the way the narrator describes him. To make the greatest impression on the crowd of people among whom might be customers, the astrologer carefully selected his attire and the right way of presenting himself, complete with saffron turban, sacred ash, and "dark whiskers that streamed down his cheeks," The power in his expression,...
The astrologer's predominant characteristic at this stage of his life is being able to ironically laugh at himself. This is revealed in the way the narrator describes him. To make the greatest impression on the crowd of people among whom might be customers, the astrologer carefully selected his attire and the right way of presenting himself, complete with saffron turban, sacred ash, and "dark whiskers that streamed down his cheeks," The power in his expression, which people took for an astrologer's “eye," was in fact the outcome of "a continual searching look for customers.” As a result of his deliberate appearance and demeanor, customers "were attracted to him like bees are attracted to ... dahlia stocks."
The narrator further reveals that the astrologer never planned or desired to be an astrologer. He knew as little about the stars of astrological predictions as his customers:
He had not the least intended to be an astrologer when he began life ; ... He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers.
From these details the narrator provides, we can deduce that the astrologer has a bit of a hearty, though ironic, laugh at himself from time to time. Yet he works honestly and with compassion for his customers since he never says anything until the customer has spoken for at least ten minutes. This accounts for the narrator's explanation that the astrologer “deserved the wages he carried at the end of the day."
Earlier in his life, the astrologer--before he was an astrologer--was reckless and foolish and given to drinking--without restraint of common sense--and wasting his earnings on gambling. This led him to embroil himself in the drunken brawl in which he stabbed a man, then left him for dead down a well. The last lines of the story reveal that he is a moral man who has been trying to absolve his crime all through the years. This is evident when he briefly tells his wife the story, then ends with,
"Why think of it now? ... Time to sleep."
He has given the victim--the customer--a report of a suitable punishment and horrible end to the man who stabbed the customer. Now he can rest quietly in a good night's sleep with a giving life's work behind him, for it is revealed by the narrator that he does say things that help and comfort his customers:
He understood what was wrong ... . and this endeared him to their hearts immediately ....