Narayan’s tightly crafted story, “An Astrologer’s Day,” is about a man in India, who, as a young man with uncontrolled and wild habits of drinking and gambling and fighting, stabbed a man--he thought to death--and threw him a well to leave him for dead. The young man ran away from his village under cover of night to start a new life with a new identity. He transformed himself into an astrologer, married, and established a stable working life.
He benefited the customers who came to him because he let them speak and gave them advice and “revelations” based upon what they said of their situations.
He said things that pleased and astonished everyone. ... Long practice had sharpened his perception. Within five minutes he understood what was wrong.
Though the text does not state this, the astrologer seems to have been so devoted to advising his customers as a means of recompense, or of creating good karma, as a way to offset his early crime. His customers attributed his penetrating look to searching the stars but the narrator attributes it to searching the crowds for customers. The customer the story tells about is ironically the very man he stabbed so many years earlier. Part of the irony is that the customer does not recognize the very man he is searching for: he desired revenge upon his attacker and searched continually for him. Equally ironic is that the astrologer tells of his own death, which he placed four months earlier, while saying he was crushed by a lorry in a distant town.
When the two meet, there is no light but a few small glows so the astrologer is in deep shadow. As a result, the customer, who is antagonistic and belligerent, cannot clearly see him. When the customer strikes a match to light a cheroot (type of a cigar), the astrologer sees enough of the other’s to recognize him though. As a result, the astrologer tries to get out of speaking with him and agrees only when a challenge and a lot of money are offered.
The astrologer sent up a prayer to heaven as the otter lit a cheroot. The astrologer caught a glimpse of his face by the matchlight. ... "I am not used to such challenges." ... "Challenge is challenge. Go on."
Another part of the irony is that the astrologer calls the vengeful customer “Guru”; a guru is a spiritual leader and teacher. Yet, here he is on a very nonspiritual quest for vengeance. This story is so tightly crafted that even though few details are given about the characters personalities, they are nonetheless three dimensional and dynamic characters whose feelings are revealed through what they say. This is evident in the last part of the story, which follows after the contented customer leaves the astrologer and the astrologer packs up his equipment and goes home.
There, after supper with his wife, the astrologer confesses that he had believed he had the “blood of a man” on his hands but that the man actually lives. This is monumental as it relieves him from deep guilt and liberates him. His response to the new moral freedom is to yawn and say, “Why think of it now ? Time to sleep.” Rather than a callous unconcern, he is revealing, in a final moment of irony, the satisfaction of liberation, knowledge of a life well lived in atonement, and focus on the next day and the customers he can continue to help and advise.