An Astrologer’s Day Summary

R. K. Narayan

An Astrologer’s Day

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An Astrologer’s Day Summary

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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.