‘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 in 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/ Summary 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, 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 that 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 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 as 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 into bad company with Guru Nayak. He drank, gambled and quarrelled badly one day and had a fight and had almost killed Guru Nayak. This is how life with its unpredictable twists and turns had created an astrologer out of a vagabond.
Questions and Answers
A. Choose the correct alternative
1. From the twelve and a half annas that the astrologer earned, his wife planned to
a. Buy fruits b. Buy vegetable c. Make sweets
2. To answer his questions, the man first gave the astrologer
a. Three pies b. Four pies c. Five pies
3. The astrologer was able to please customers because of
a. His humour b. His honesty c. His clever guessing
B. The story contains synonyms of the expressions given below. Locate them in the text and write them down:
1. Bright red in colour
2. Expressing opinions or feelings in a loud and confident way
3. Willing or prepared to do something
4. Words that are spoken or sung to have a magical effect
5. With no people in it
C. Read the story carefully and find single words for each of the phrases given below:
1. Bright and colourful in an impressive way
2. To hang about aimlessly
3. Showing good judgement and likely to be right
4. Acting without thinking of results
5. A large number of objects or personal possessions
D. The story contains the antonyms of the words given below.
Locate them in the text and write them down.
Answers to check your progress
1. – C
2. – A
3. – C
E. Answer the following questions :
When did the astrologer usually start his day’s business?
Answer: The astrologer usually started his day’s business punctually at midday.
Why did the astrologer think he had committed a murder?
Answer: The astrologer had a fight with Guru Nayak and had thrown him in a well and he supposed him to be dead. So the astrologer thought he had committed the murder of Guru Nayak.
What mark did Guru Nayak have on his chest?
Answer: Guru Nayak had a mark of injury of the knife on his chest.
How much money did the astrologer usually charge per question?
Answer: The astrologer usually charged three pies per question.
What made the astrologer’s forehead look grand?
Answer: The astrologer’s forehead was resplendent with sacred ash and vermilion and his eyes sparkled with abnormal gleam and this made the astrologer’s forehead look grand.
How did the astrologer know the name of his customer?
Answer: The astrologer knew the name of his customer because he was from his hometown and an old friend of his.
Describe the place where the astrologer set up his daily business.
Answer: The astrologer set up his daily business at a path running through Town Hall Park. He sat under the boughs of a spreading tamarind tree which flanked a path running through the Town Hall Park. It was remarkable in many ways: a surging crowd was always moving up and down this narrow road morning till night. A variety of trades and occupations was represented all along its way: medicine sellers, sellers of stolen hardware and junk, magicians and above all, an auctioneer of cheap cloth, who created enough din all day to attract the whole town. Next to him in vociferousness came a vendor of fried groundnut, who gave his ware a fancy came each day, calling it “Bombay Ice Cream” one day, and on the next “Delhi Almond” and on the third “Raja’s Delicacy”, and so forth and people flocked to him. A considerable portion of this crowd dialled before the astrologer too. The astrologer transacted his business by the light of a flare that crackled and smoked up above the groundnut heap nearby. The place was lit up by shop lights. It was a bewildering crisscross of light rays and moving shadows. In short, the place was perfect for the astrologer’s business.
Q.8. If the astrologer had stayed in the village then he would have carried on _______.
Ans: If the astrologer had stayed in the village then he would have carried on the work of his forefathers – namely, tilling the land, living, marrying, and ripening in his cornfield and ancestral home.
The astrologer could understand the problem in five minutes. How?
Ans: The astrologer had a working analysis of mankind’s troubles: marriage, money, and the tangles of human ties. Long practice had sharpened his perception. That’s how he could understand the problem in five minutes.
How could the astrologer tell the person about his life?
Ans: The astrologer never opened his mouth till his client had spoken for at least ten minutes, which provided him enough time to form a dozen answers and advice. He had a working analysis of mankind’s common troubles. He utilised the time spent in silence to collate his experience and common understanding of life’s problems to tell the person about his life.
What do you understand by the author’s statement that the astrologer deserved the wages he carried home at the end of the day?
Ans: The statement means that the earnings of the astrologer were a result of a hard day’s work. Even though he did not really know astrology, he did a good job of delighting and convincing his customers by telling them what they wanted to hear. So, it was as much an honest man’s labour as any other.
The astrologer had a working analysis of mankind’s troubles. What can you infer about him from this remark?
Ans: The astrologer did not really know astrology but by virtue of his study, practice and shrewd guesswork, he could say pleasant and astonishing things to his customers. He generically knew about mankind’s troubles such as marriage, money, relationships and said vague but delightful things to them that endeared him to their hearts.
The astrologer never opened his mouth till the other had spoken for at least ten minutes. Discuss the reasons behind his actions.
Ans: i. he is good at reading the people
ii. he needs to buy time to frame his answers to the questions of his clients.
iii. he uses the time to weigh the client’s concerns against the working analysis of human problems that he is an expert at.
iv. he possibly takes his time to impress on the client that he is working hard to resolve the latter’s problem.
What are the reasons behind the astrologer’s success in his profession?
Ans: The astrologer wore a professionally suitable appearance with vermilion and sacred ash on his forehead, saffron-coloured turban around his head and dark whiskers streaming down his cheeks. Also, he knew the tricks of his trade and said all the pleasing things to his customers, which endeared him to them. Moreover, he practised in a bustling marketplace where he could attract his customers easily. All these reasons made him successful in his profession.
Do you think that one can’t judge a person by his or her appearance?
Ans: Yes, I agree that one should not form an opinion of someone purely based on what appears on the surface. Upon a closer look, the person may turn out to be much more meritorious than the appearance suggests. On the contrary, someone looking very virtuous from outside may not prove worthy of the expectations upon deeper analysis. This wisdom is aptly captured in the popular proverb “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
In your opinion, is astrology a true science?
Ans: In my opinion, astrology is not a science. There is no scientific evidence to prove the influence of stars and other heavenly bodies on one’s personality and future. It is merely an orthodox belief system based on superstition.
What can you infer about the stranger’s nature based on his interaction with the astrologer?
Ans: The stranger deals roughly with the astrologer by thrusting his palm under the astrologer’s nose and challenging his professional skills. He also forces the astrologer to enter a challenge much against his wish. Based on his interaction with the astrologer, we can infer that a stranger is a rogue person.
What is the likely reason that the astrologer later tries to avoid the stranger, even though he had first suggested the latter to seek his help?
Ans: The astrologer caught a glimpse of the stranger’s face by the matchlight while the latter lit a cheroot. The stranger sat down there ruthlessly, sucking his cheroot and puffing out. All this made the astrologer feel uncomfortable and hence he tried to thereafter avoid the stranger.
In your opinion, is it appropriate to force someone to accept a challenge against his or her wish?
Ans: In my opinion, it is not at all appropriate to impose a challenge on someone. A challenge should be entered with the mutual consent of those involved and not by bullying tactics. No one has the right to impose one’s will on the other without his or her agreement on the matter involved. A forced challenge can negatively impact the morale and mental balance of the person in question and is hence not a healthy situation to be in.
What was the load on the astrologer’s mind?
Ans: The astrologer thought that he had the blood of a man on his hands all those years after he fled from his home. This means that the guilt of having murdered a man was the load on the astrologer’s mind.
The astrologer feels relieved that Guru is not dead as it relieves a great burden from him. Critically justify the statement and explain it.
Ans: The astrologer feels relieved to discover that Guru is not dead. This is so because the astrologer had attempted to kill Guru at an early age and left him for dead. To know that Guru isn’t dead must have acquitted him of the guilt of being an assassin. Hence, it unburdened him from the prick of conscience.
The astrologer has changed his appearance and his persona when he arrived in the city. Give specific reasons.
Ans: The astrologer had moved out from his native village to the city after attempting to kill a man, whom he had left for dead. He had to disguise his true identity to avoid being caught. Also, he had to make a living and begin a new life in the city after absconding from his village. For these reasons, the astrologer had to change his appearance and persona when he arrived in the city.
Why does the astrologer lie to the stranger that the man he is looking for has long been dead?
Ans: The astrologer lies to the stranger that the man he is looking for has been dead, in order to save his own skin from the stranger who was looking out for the man who had tried to kill him many years ago, and seek revenge. The astrologer himself happens to be the culprit. So, had the astrologer not misled the stranger by lying to him about the death of the culprit, he himself would have been under constant threat of getting killed at the stranger’s hands if he ever found out the truth.
The man was left for dead because _______.
Ans: The man was left for dead because there was no chance of his survival after he was brutally attacked with a knife in the chest by his assailant and then pushed into a well nearby in the field.
In your opinion, was it right for the astrologer to hide his own identity from the unsuspecting stranger?
Ans: The astrologer knew that the stranger was on the lookout for the man who had attempted to kill him many years ago so that he could seek revenge by killing the culprit in turn. Had the astrologer bared his true identity to the stranger, he would have instantly met with death at the latter’s hands. This would have worsened the matters since the astrologer had his wife and daughter to look after. Therefore, I think that the astrologer was right in hiding his own identity from the unsuspecting stranger.
‘The darkness load that was inside the astrologer has disappeared’. Through this sentence, explain the significance of the title ‘An Astrologer’s Day’.
Ans: The sentence ‘The darkness load that was inside the astrologer has disappeared’ directly relates to the title ‘An Astrologer’s Day’. The title seems to reflect two aspects of the astrologer’s life. The first is that of a typical workday in the life of the astrologer. However, the second aspect is what the given sentence captures, i.e, the importance of the particular day in the astrologer’s life. On the said day, the astrologer found out that a man whom he had attempted to kill way back and left for dead, had actually survived. This finding must have relieved the astrologer of the guilt of committing a murder. Also, that day, the astrologer had tricked the stranger into believing that the man who had left him for dead after attempting to kill him, had himself died in an accident, and hence the latter did not have to search for him anymore to seek revenge. This must have provided the astrologer with further relief and assured him to breathe easier.
If we have to eradicate the superstitions and other ill practices from our society, what steps would you like to suggest?
Ans: In order to eradicate the superstitions and other evil practices from our society, I would first suggest taking steps to promote a rational outlook amongst people. I would like to educate the masses and expose the bluff behind obscure and orthodox practices. Although I wouldn’t go all-out against all traditional practices, as some of them could have a valid basis. However, I would spread awareness among everyone in my social circles to keep a scientific temper and think logically rather than blindly following superstitions. I could possibly even tell them about the reasons for which some superstitions held good in ancient ages but are no longer valid.
In the story, the astrologer has a great listening power. Listening helps in developing good relations with people. Express your opinion.
Ans: Listening, as differentiated from hearing, is about consciously understanding and applying one’s mind to what is heard. As the story illustrates, being a good listener helps one to fare better in any activity that one takes up. The astrologer isn’t knowledgeable of his work but still manages to convince his customers and make his living, owing to his great listening skills. He establishes a rapport with his clients by just listening to them for a few minutes without uttering a word, while analysing their troubles and simultaneously composing his talk and answers to the clients. This helps him to mask his own shortcomings and succeed in his work, where he would otherwise not have. Hence, great listening power is a strong skill set we all should develop.
The astrologer wins/gets the sympathy of criticism of the reader in the end. Express your opinion with the support of the main story.
What are the astrologer’s strategies to win more customers?
Ans: The story portrays the astrologer as a false fortune teller with no real knowledge of his ‘profession’. He attracts clients by his street-smart ways and also manages to convince them by sweet-talking to them. Moreover, he is revealed to the reader as a near- murderer towards the end of the story. However, despite all this, it’s difficult to judge the astrologer as a negative character and he rather manages to win the sympathy of the reader’s criticism.. This is so because firstly, he has to make a living in the new city after he fled his village for fear of being caught. So, in the absence of any other skill, he must have had to adopt astrology as a livelihood under distress and not by choice.
Secondly, he had to trick the stranger into believing that the man whom he was looking out for had already died in an accident, so as to protect his own life. Again, he can’t be judged badly on this count because he couldn’t have afforded to lose his own life at the hands of the stranger by revealing him his true identity. Since he had his wife and child to support too, it made him lie to the stranger in order to keep himself out of harm’s way.
a) Answer in 100 words
1. Describe the astrologer’s appearance.
2. What are the astrologer’s strategies to win more customers?
3. How does R.K. Narayan describe the appearance and paraphernalia of the astrologer?
4. Who was the stranger? What was his challenge to the astrologer?
b) Answer in 150 words
1. Comment on the unexpected turn of events in the Astrologer‟s life.
2. How is Guru Nayak defeated twice by the astrologer?
3. Attempt a character sketch of the astrologer.