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Summary of 'An Astrologer’s Day' by RK Narayan

Summary of An Astrologers Day by RK Narayan

‘An Astrologer’s Day’ by R. K. Narayan is a story that deals with a day’s events in the life of a good-for-nothing fellow turned into an astrologer to earn his bread and butter. A single day brings his drastic past back before him but being a smart fellow, he finely deals with it.

Summary of An Astrologer's Day

In an unnamed village in India, an astrologer lays out his tools of the trade, a mix of cowrie shells, obscure charts, a notebook, and other such curios. They serve no purpose but to create the illusion of mysticism. The astrologer has also painted his forehead with sacred ash, wrapped his head in a turban, and seated himself and his gear beneath a large tree. All of these things serve to give him an air of wisdom, transcendence, and prophetic power, though the narrator is quick to point out that none of these qualities actually belong to the man.

The astrologer has set up his little shop amidst a busy marketplace among people fencing stolen goods, presenting the same cheap food as a variety of gourmet delicacies, and auctioning off low-quality fabrics. The astrologer quickly established as a fraud, is in the company of other fraudsters and spin doctors selling their wares and making their livings. The marketplace is lit by various shop lights and flares, the dancing shadows of which enhance the astrologer’s mystical quality. He notably has no light of his own, but simply borrows that of the other vendors.

The astrologer had never had any intention of becoming one but had been forced to leave his ancestral home and travel several hundred miles away with no plan and no money. Even so, he is a convincing holy man, using his own insights into human problems to offer vague but comforting advice to people in the market. He functions as a sort of therapist, offering self-affirming advice that he wraps in the guise of astrological wisdom. He is good at his trade; he tells people what they want to hear, and they leave comforted by it. Though it is not an honest living that the astrologer makes, it is still a well-earned one.

As the marketplace is emptying and the lights are being put out, a stranger named Guru Nayak appears. In the darkness, neither can see much of the other’s face. Seeing the opportunity for one more client, the astrologer invites Guru Nayak to sit and chat. The stranger does so but is instantly sceptical of the astrologer. He aggressively wagers that the astrologer cannot tell him anything true or worthwhile. They haggle over the price and the astrologer agrees. However, when Guru Nayak lights a cheroot, the astrologer catches a brief glimpse of the man’s face and is filled with fear. He tries to get out of the water, but Guru Nayak holds him to it and will not let him leave.

The astrologer tries his usual tack of vague, self-affirming advice, but Guru Nayak will have none of it. The astrologer sincerely prays for a moment and then changes course. He reveals to Guru Nayak that he knows he was once stabbed through the chest and left for dead, and that now Guru Nayak is here searching for his assailant. He even reveals that he knows Guru Nayak’s name, something he attributes to his cosmic wisdom. Guru Nayak is greatly excited by all of this, believing the astrologer to truly be all-knowing. He presses the astrologer for the whereabouts of the man who stabbed him so that he can have his revenge. The astrologer tells him that he died several months ago, crushed by an oncoming lorry. Guru Nayak is frustrated by this but satisfied that at least his attacker died terribly. He gives the astrologer his money and leaves.

The astrologer arrives home late at night and shows his wife the money he has made, becoming briefly bitter when he realizes that although Guru Nayak has paid him a great sum, it is not quite as much as promised. Even so, his wife is thrilled. As they lie down to sleep, the astrologer reveals to his wife that a great burden has been lifted off of his shoulders. Years ago, the astrologer was the one to stab Guru Nayak and leave him for dead, which forced him to flee his home and make a new life as a fraudulent astrologer. He had thought himself to be a murderer but was now content that he had not in fact taken a life. Satisfied by this, he goes to sleep. Skip to content 

Summary of An Astrologer’s Day

The short story ‘An Astrologer’s Day’ by R. K. Narayan is a thriller and suspense short story that deals with a single day in the life of an ordinary astrologer who shrewdly tries to dupe people and escape from his guilt. The story not only exposes the fake astrologer but also highlights the gullible and superstitious people who approach him. His day begins like any other day but the day ends with unexpected events. When he is about to wind up his business, he meets a rogue character, Guru Nayak who is a part of the past life of the astrologer. Towards the end, as readers, we receive a shock that Guru Nayak and the astrologer belong to the same native towns. They were once upon a time good friends and had a quarrel one day. The result was that both were into bad company and had a fight. The astrologer tried to kill Guru Nayak by attacking him with a knife and when Guru Nayak fainted, he threw him into a nearby wall.

Fortunately, a passerby saved Guru Nayak. The astrologer left his native village forever and became an astrologer. Thus suddenly he confronts his past unexpectedly but smartly tackles the situation.

The surrounding darkness seems to offer a refuge to the astrologer. There is an unexpected twist in the tale with the arrival of Guru Nayak on the scene. Gradually the mystery that is hidden in the darkness is unveiled by his questions. Guru Nayak challenges the astrologer’s knowledge. He refuses to go away without getting a satisfactory answer to his questions.

However, the astrologer who is at his wit’s end now decides to face the situation. He displays accurate knowledge about Guru Nayak’s past and is successful in convincing him. In answering the question of Guru Nayak, the astrologer has not only deceived him but also saved himself from his own fate. The author superbly evokes an atmosphere of suspense and irony in the story. The story reveals how appearances are often deceptive. It shows the witty astrologer’s encounter and escapes from his former enemy.

The Theme of 'An Astrologer’s Day'

The theme of the story focuses on a single day in the life of an ordinary astrologer who suddenly faces past life in the present drastic situation. The story has a twist in the tale. The otherwise adventure-less life of the astrologer suddenly poses a grave problem from his past life and demands alertness to tackle the situation. The story describes a single day in the lives of the sleepy town of Malgudi.

The story also deals with the darker side of human nature with its hypocrisies, shrewdness, revengeful nature and selfishness. The characters in the story are no exception to these qualities of human nature. Finally, all is well that ends well with the astrologer coming out with flying colours in his examination of befooling his opponent, saving his life and also seeing to it that he does not face the man again in future.

Analysis of “An Astrologer’s Day”

“The Astrologer’s Day” is a short story that deals with a day in the life of an ordinary but fake astrologer. The setting of the story is a town, Malgudi which is located in South India, near Madras. It is not a story of contemporary times but pre-independence times.

The story opens at midday. This is the time when the astrologer opens his business. The writer describes how he begins his business. He removes all his professional equipment like cowries shells, charts, Palmyra writing etc. He is also dressed typically like an astrologer to attract customers. His forehead is bright with sacred ash and vermilion. His eyes are assumed to have a prophetic light by his customers. He wears a saffron turban. Thus the astrologer presented himself so perfectly that he was consequently a point of attraction for all the people.

The writer describes the path along the Town Hall Park where the astrologer sits to lure his prospective customers. He carried on his business under a tamarind tree on the Town Hall road. The path was the right place to carry on his business as it was amply crowded with different trades and traders like medicine sellers, hardware and junk, magicians, cloth – sellers etc. Next to him sat a fried groundnut vendor whose gas light enabled him to carry on his business even after sunset.

The astrologer was a shrewd person who hardly had any knowledge of astrology. He just made guesswork when people approached him. He had to work hard to earn his wages. He had absconded from his native village since he didn’t want to continue the traditional occupation of his forefathers i.e. farming. He never had any plans to return to his native village. He was a mastermind at analyzing the human mind and psychology. His strong perception made him diagnose the exact problem of his customers. His customers would finally leave satisfied.

He closed his shop for the day when his neighbour, a groundnut vendor blew out his light. On the day under the description in the story, the groundnut vendor left and the astrologer was packing up his wares when he located a man standing before him. He perceived him to be his prospective customer. When the astrologer invited him, he posed a challenge before him and his astrological science. They have a deal between them. The man gave him an anna and asked the astrologer to answer his questions and if he doesn’t answer satisfactorily he will have to return the anna with interest. At the same time if the astrologer can answer the questions satisfactorily he would give him eight annas. But if the astrologer fails, he would pay double the amount i.e., sixteen annas to the man. Thus the deal was finalized between them.

The astrologer prayed to heaven. Then suddenly the astrologer denied the challenge and requested the man to let him go. The man said that he will not let him give in. He holds him in his grip thereby making the astrologer shiver. Finally, the astrologer realized that he is trapped and has no chance of moving out. The man turned out to be a criminal by profession.

The astrologer shivered and unwillingly accepted the challenge. He started telling about some woman but the man was not satisfied and stopped him. He had a single question about whether he would get what he was searching for. The man promised the astrologer that if he is satisfied with his answers, he would pay him a rupee. The astrologer prayed a few incantations before replying. The astrologer began with his prophecies by saying to the man that you were left for dead in the past and a knife has passed once on your chest. The man was excited at this information since he had really faced it. After he got wounded, he was thrown into a well nearby to die. A passerby saw him and rescued him and that is how he was saved from dying. The man was waiting to revenge on the culprit who had attacked him and was in search of the culprit who had tried to kill him. The only thing which the man wanted to know from the astrologer was if he can find his killer. The astrologer instantly replied that the culprit had died four months ago in a far–off the town. The man was disappointed to hear this.

The astrologer identified the name of the man before him as Guru Nayak. He told the man that his village was a two days’ journey to the north and warned him to go back home and never to travel south again. He asked him to return to his hometown immediately as his life was in danger if he left his hometown again. The man replied that he left home just to search for the culprit who had tried to kill him and was interested in knowing if he had died in the worst way. The astrologer satisfied him by informing that the culprit was crushed under a lorry. The man left after giving the astrologer a handful of coins. The astrologer too winded up his belongings and went home.

The astrologer’s wife was waiting for him worriedly since he was unusually late that day. The astrologer flung the coins at his wife to count. They were twelve and a half annas in all. She was extremely happy to encounter that big amount. She planned to buy jaggery and coconut for their child, who was demanding sweets for a long time. However, the astrologer looked worried and was not happy like his wife. He was angry at Guru Nayak as he had cheated him. He promised to give a rupee and actually gave only twelve and a half annas. After dinner, he shared the secret of his life with his wife. He said that a great burden of his life was gone that day. He always felt that he had killed Guru Nayak. So the astrologer had run away from his native village due to the fear of being accused of a murderer. He settled in Malgudi and married and decided that he would never return back to his native village. Actually, the man who tried to kill Guru Nayak was the astrologer himself. So he was able to make accurate predictions about him though he hardly knew astrology. The astrologer confessed to his wife that in his youth he was in bad company with Guru Nayak. He drank, gambled and quarrelled badly one day and had a fight and almost killed Guru Nayak. This is how life with its unpredictable twists and turns had created an astrologer out of a vagabond.

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