An Astrologer's Day

by R. K. Narayan

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In "An Astrologer's Day," why does the astrologer give the stranger this particular advice about the stranger's past?

In "An Astrologer's Day" by R. K. Narayan, the astrologer gives the specific advice about his client's past because he recognizes him. He is not a stranger but rather a man he tried to kill when he was younger who has come looking for him. The astrologer tells the man to go home and stop seeking the person who attempted to murder him so that the man will stop pursuing him and leave him alone.

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After recognizing the stranger as a man whom he tried to murder years earlier, the astrologer advises,

Listen carefully to what I have to say. Your village is two day’s journey due north of this town. Take the next train and be gone. I see once again great danger to your life if you go from home.

The protagonist instructs his unknowing victim to do this for one main reason: self-protection. He wants to keep the man away in order to remain safe from retaliation. His speech to the stranger involves two strategies: establishing false authority and satisfying the customer’s rage and need for vengeance.

First, before delivering the advice above, the charlatan astrologer uses prior knowledge to fool the customer into believing his authenticity as a psychic. Pretending to demonstrate supernatural powers, he feigns divining the man’s past—being stabbed in the chest, pushed into a well in a field, and left to die. The man is amazed that the astrologer knows this information, unaware that the astrologer is actually the perpetrator of these homicidal deeds.

Further strengthening his facade as a trustworthy clairvoyant, the protagonist addresses the stranger by name:

“Guru Nayak.”“You know my name!” the other said, taken aback.

This false display of magical power misleads the stranger into taking the fake astrologer's words seriously. The hapless customer listens intently to and heeds the command to take the two-day train journey back home up north and never return. The protagonist then tries to scare the man by professing that he can avoid danger if he stays home. Conveniently, this warning ensures that the man will never return, securing the protagonist’s safety.

Further cementing his false persona, the astrologer

took out a pinch of sacred ash and held it to him. “Rub it on your forehead and go home. Never travel southward again, and you will live to be a hundred.”

This action and a promise of long life not only portray him as a mystical figure but also make the stranger feel a bit of control over his own fate. The astrologer supposedly sees into the future that the man will live to be one hundred years old if he follows directions.

Second, the protagonist placates the stranger’s anger and desire for vengeance by telling him that his attempted murderer is

in the next world … he died four months ago in a far-off town. You will never see any more of him.

This statement provides double insurance that the attempted murderer is dead and thus out of the stranger’s reach and that the stranger can look forward to enacting vengeance in the afterlife (“the next world”). The protagonist confirms that the stranger has been looking for him “now and then” in order to kill him. By lying that he—the attempted murderer—is dead, the astrologer stops the stranger from stalking him in the future.

When the disappointed stranger remarks that his attempted murderer hopefully “died as he deserved,” the astrologer again lies:

Yes … he was crushed...

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under a lorry.

The astrologer embellishes his deceptive narrative in order to satisfy the stranger and send him away appeased and certain never to return.

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In the short story "An Astrologer's Day" by R. K. Narayan, the author first describes a man who makes his living as an astrologer but who is obviously a fraud. He uses ashes, face coloring, and a turban to appear mystical, but his answers to his clients are based on his knowledge of human behavior instead of any perceived astrological phenomena.

He is putting away his "professional equipment" one evening when a man appears and challenges him to prove that his advice is genuine and that he is not bluffing. Under most circumstances, the astrologer is bluffing, of course, but because he recognizes the client when he lights a cheroot, the astrologer is able to give him real facts about the client's life.

The astrologer realizes that this man before him is a person he fought with when they were both young. He later explains to his wife that "we drank, gambled and quarreled badly one day." The astrologer, thinking he had killed the man, fled his village and came to live in this place, hundreds of miles away. The man survived and has come in search of the man that had left him for dead.

Because the astrologer recognizes the man, he is able to give him enough true information about his past so that his client believes that he is a trustworthy astrologer. The astrologer then tells the man that the person who tried to kill him has died and to return home and never travel southward again. He gives him this advice because if the man complies and remains at home, the astrologer will be safe from him. He will not have to fear that the man will continue his search and someday find and kill him.

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In The Astrologer's Day, the astrologer gives the stranger an interesting piece of advice. He tells him to take the next train home and to never venture into town again.

Essentially, the astrologer gives the stranger this piece of advice as a means of self-preservation. He recognizes the stranger as the man he tried to kill after a drunken quarrel decades ago. To protect himself, the astrologer tells the stranger a lie: that the man who tried to kill him (the stranger) is dead. When the stranger asks how his enemy died, the astrologer answers that he was crushed under a truck (lorry).

After hearing this news, the stranger is elated. He maintains that he no longer has a reason to leave his village in the future. After all, his enemy is dead. The stranger originally set out to kill the man who knifed him and left him for dead decades ago.

By basing his advice on a fabricated piece of information, the astrologer manages to preserve his life and to earn his keep for the day.

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The astrologer’s background appears obscure as the story opens.

He is confronted by a stranger who demands a direct answer to his question.

The stranger was nearly killed by the astrologer during a fight in his home village when the astrologer was young, and, once the astrologer recognized the man, he felt relieved that he was alive.

The man wanted revenge against the person who nearly killed him.

The astrologer's inside knowledge provided him an opportunity to save his own life.

He lied to the man by telling him that the murderer died "four months ago in a far-off town."

The astrologer reassures the man that he can have his revenge in the next life.

So, it is clear by the end of the story that the astrologer left his home town to absolve himself from his crimes and used his ability to observe people to save his own life.

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What details does the astrologer gives the stranger about his past in "An Astrologer's Day"?

The astrologer cannot give the stranger any precise details about his—the astrologer's—past for the simple reason that, as the astrologer learns to his horror, the stranger is the very same man he brutally attacked all those years ago and left for dead. But as the stranger requires some kind of reading for his money, the astrologer gives him details about that fateful day when he was stabbed and thrown down a well.

Of course, there's one crucial piece of information that the astrologer cannot give the man, and that's the whereabouts of his assailant. He tells his client that he will never meet him again. On hearing this, the stranger is disappointed; he was so determined to gain revenge on the man who nearly killed him. But the astrologer can tell him something important: that the man who attacked him is dead, and that he was crushed beneath the wheels of a truck. This isn't true, of course, at least not in the literal sense. The man who attacked the stranger died spiritually, and was subsequently reborn as the astrologer. Both the astrologer and the man he left for dead now have the chance to move on with their lives.

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