An Astrologer's Day

by R. K. Narayan
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Explain in your own words the meaning of this sentence from “An Astrologer's Day”: “He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers.”

In “An Astrologer's Day,” the sentence “He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers” uncovers the protagonist’s real identity as a con artist. In other words, he is not an actual astrologer but merely poses as one. He can read the stars just as well as his oblivious customers can, which means he cannot read stars at all. He merely pretends to in order to swindle them out of their money.

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In the short story “An Astrologer's Day,” the protagonist pretends to be a diviner who reads the stars in order to tell people their fortunes. The statement

He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers

reveals his true identity as a fraud. In other words, he is as familiar with and knowledgeable about astrological signs as his hapless clients are. Like his ignorant customers, he cannot understand the stars but pretends that he knows what they say about peoples’ lives. He then peddles this fake knowledge as truths to willing listeners.

Although author R. K. Narayan never discloses the protagonist’s name, he reveals how the character became an astrologer:

He had left his village without any previous thought or plan. If he had continued there he would have carried on the work of his forefathers namely, tilling the land, living, marrying, and ripening in his cornfield and ancestral home. But that was not to be.

He escapes from his former community and cannot continue his family’s lineage and farming traditions. Instead, he unwittingly becomes an astrologer to earn money. Admittedly, this charlatan cannot predict other people’s futures any more than he can his own.

To fool people into thinking that he does have divine powers, though, he cleverly asks them questions, observes their reactions, and formulates their fortunes. His method is “study, practice, and shrewd guesswork.” Most importantly, he figures out and knows what to say in order to please and amaze his customers:

He had a working analysis of mankind’s troubles: marriage, money, and the tangles of human ties. Long practice had sharpened his perception. Within five minutes he understood what was wrong. He charged three pies per question, never opened his mouth till the other had spoken for at least ten minutes, which provided him enough stuff for a dozen answers and advices.

His strategy is three-fold. First, he pretends to read the customer’s palm and states general, probable, and irrefutable statements like “In many ways you are not getting the fullest results for your efforts” in order to establish authority and connection. Then he collects information on the customer’s background (family, relationships). Finally, he offers an alleged analysis of the customer’s character with references to planets and flattering statements.

Despite being a “stranger to the stars” and con artist to “innocent” customers, the protagonist considers his work to be honest labor that earns him deserved wages.

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The astrologer is something of an imposter because he knows nothing about the pseudo-science of astrology. But on the other hand, he has no belief in astrology, so he doesn't think there was anything to know. The crowds who pass by him every day, and the few who actually pay to consult him for advice, are also totally ignorant of the complex and esoteric rules of the ancient practice of astrology. So the astrologer and the clients are equally ignorant. Since astrology is a pseudo-science, the astrologer probably knows as much as other astrologers who really believe in what they are practicing and who spend a lot of time studying the sky and studying their charts. The astrologer in the story relies on his own wits, his own common sense, and his own cunning in extracting information from his customers in the questions they ask and in their body language, facial expressions, and other cues, rather than on the placements of stars in the heavens. He knows that most people share the same problems and the same aspirations. They are not paying him for advice so much as they are paying him for validation. They already know what they want to hear, and for him it is a matter of guessing what it is they want to hear and then telling them that what they want to happen is what is going to happen.

He had a working analysis of mankind's troubles: marriage, money, and the tangles of human ties. Long practice had sharpened his perception. Within five minutes he understood what was wrong. He charged three pies per question, never opened his mouth till the other had spoken for at least ten minutes, which provided him enough stuff for a dozen answers and advices.

This is still true today. People ask for advice when what they really want is validation of what they already believe or of what they want to happen. The astrologer is fortunate when he runs into Guru Nayak that he already knows agreat deal about him. But he gives him some advice that Guru Nayak wants tohear. He tells him that the man he is looking for is dead and that he can give up his searching and go back to his village. Naturally the astrologer's advice is persuasive because he knows so much about Guru Nayak, including his name.

"I hope at least he died as he deserved."
"Yes," said the astrologer. "He was crushed under a lorry."
The other looked gratified to hear it.

The story is titled "An Astrologer's Day" because it is a day in the life of a manwho has to live by his wits. He has a precarious existence, but he knows he has to collect a handful of small coins to take back to his wife and his little daughter, or else they will go hungry.


 

 

   
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