Summary of An Astrologer's Day



“An Astrologer’s Day” is a short story from R.K. Narayan’s (Rasipuram krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami) collection of short poems. The name of the collection was Malgudi Days. It consists of thirty poems and the “An Astrologer’s Day is one of them. It was first published in Hindi in 1943 and was first published in English approximately in 1947. The Malgudi is the fictional city in India where all the stories take place.

In order to understand the story, it is very important to know the suspense of the story. An unnamed man (the astrologer) is the protagonist of the story. He has to leave his village because he stabs a man named Guru Nayak and he even tries to kill him. In fear of being kept in prison, he runs away to the city of Malgudi, two hundred miles away from his village. There he starts a business as an astrologer. And the story begins likewise.

The astrologer began his business under the boughs of a spreading tamarind which flanked a path running through the Town Hall Park. The place was perfect and was remarkable in many ways: a surging crowd was always moving up and down this narrow road from morning to night. There were a variety of trades and occupations 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 town. Next to him was a vendor of groundnut who gave his ware a fancy name each day, calling it ‘Bombay Ice Cream’ one day, and on the next ‘Delhi Almond’ and on the third ‘Raja’s Delicacy’, and so on. A large number of people congregated to him.

The astrologer opened his equipments like cowrie shells, charts with strange diagrams, and some palm leaves with mysterious writings. The astrologer did have any knowledge and ideas about palmistry before he started his business of astrologer. He was as much as a stranger as his innocent customers. But he had the capabilities to please the people.

He dressed like a professional astrologer as he could attract the people towards him. He wore a saffron colour turban around his head. His forehead was marked with sacred ash and vermillion. The dark whisker stretched down his cheeks and his eyes were constantly searching for customers. People were attracted to him as bees are attracted to cosmos or dahlia stalks.

The astrologer transacted his business by the light of flare which crackled and smoked up above the groundnut heap nearby. He did not have lights of his own. He managed his business by the lights of shops. Some had hissing gaslights and naked flares stuck on poles and some were lit up by old cycle lamps, and one or two, like the astrologer’s, managed without lights of their own.

He had a working analysis of mankind’s troubles like marriage, money and the tangles of human ties. He charged three pies per question. He let his clients speak at least which provided him enough stuff for the questions. When he told the people before him gazing the palms, “In many ways you are not getting the fullest results for your efforts”, nine out of ten were satisfied to agree with him.

He further questioned, ‘Is there any woman in your family, maybe even a distant relative who is not well disposed towards you?’ Or he gave an analysis of character: ‘Most of your troubles are due to your nature. How can you be otherwise with Saturn where he is? You have an impetuous nature and rough exterior’. His customers believed and accepted that he was really a good palmistry and they even thought he had a divine power to read the feelings and incidents of others.

It became dark the nuts vendors and the shop keepers blew out their flares and rose to go him. The astrologer was also packing his equipments for going home. Suddenly, a stranger came to him. The stranger and the astrologer discussed prolonged and bet for a satisfactory answer. The stranger lit a cigarette and the astrologer recognised him by the light of the cigarette that he was the man whom he tried to kill and threw into an empty-well. Then, the astrologer tries to escape saying that it was too late and he would speak to him tomorrow. But the stranger did not let him go. After a good deal of haggling the astrologer agreed to answer to questions.

The astrologer said: ‘You were left for dead. Am I right?’ ‘A knife has passed through you once?’ and ‘And then you were pushed into a well nearby in the field. You were left for dead’. Promptly, the stranger clenching his fist asked ‘When shall I get at him?’ The astrologer said ‘in the next word’. He further said ‘He died four months ago in a far-off town. You will never see any more of him’. The stranger was very angry. The astrologer called the stranger in his name, Guru Nayak. The astrologer told that the stranger’s village was due north of Malgudi. He said that the stranger had great danger in his life so he should not travel southward again. The stranger took out a pinch of sacred ash and held it to him to rub it in his forehead. He also said that the man was crushed under a lorry who had attempted to kill Guru Nayak.

The astrologer returned home at midnight. He flung his coins to in front of his wife for counting and the coins were only ‘Twelve and a half annas’. He revealed to her that he got a great sense of relief. He saved himself by telling his client that his enemy (he) was died. Actually, the enemy of Guru Nayak was the astrologer. When they were young they had a drink one day. They quarrelled in some reasons. The astrologer stabbed Guru Nayak and threw him into a well nearby in the field thinking he was died.

The interest of the story is in its irony- the level of awareness of the characters and the reader. The reader knows that the astrologer has no predictive powers but his clients trust him. This gives rise to the comedy in the narration.  

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