Provide a summary of R. K. Narayan's short story, "An Astrologer's Day."

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“An Astrologer’s Day” is not told chronologically as it has a significant, though incomplete,  flashback early on in the narrative. So, even though the story starts with the astrologer preparing for a day of business in a merchant’s lane that daily attracts many people, the real start of the story is when he was a youth and, in a drunken gambling brawl, stabbed a man, left him for dead in a well where he threw him, and run under cover of darkness in the depth of the night to flee punishment and start a new life. We first meet the astrologer in the lane in the midst of this new life he created: he left off being a farmer and became an astrologer. Wearing his saffron turban, with sacred ash and vermilion on his forehead, he is unpacking his astrological equipment for the day while the narrator describes the physical setting and the all important lighting of the lane. He further tells us how successful the astrologer has been in giving advice to his customers. He succeeds because he has an understanding of all the troubles of life and allows customers to speak.

He had a working analysis of mankind's troubles : marriage, money, and the tangle of human ties. ... Within five minutes he understood what was wrong. He ... never opened his mouth till the other had spoken for at least ten minutes.

The real action begins when the "nuts vendor blew out his flare and rose to go home." It is while the astrologer follows the lead of the nuts vendor and is packing his equipment up to return home that a new potential customer stands in front of the astrologer’s work space. Saying, “You look so careworn. It will do you good to sit down for a while and chat with me,” the astrologer tries to lure in a final customer. After formulating a challenge to interest the customer, the astrologer sees the man’s face in the matchlight with which he lights his cheroot. At once the astrologer says he has changed his mind and will go home after all, and the customer is welcome to come next day. Insisting upon his challenge being met, “Challenge is challenge,” the customer stays.

The astrologer begins to astound the customer by telling his name and recounting the worst event of the man’s life--the day he was stabbed and left for dead in a well. The astonished man responds that he would have been dead except for a passerby who rescued him from the well. His next remark is a call for revenge, “When shall I get at him,” he said. The astrologer replies that revenge will only be possible in the next world because the attacker “died four months ago in a far-off town.” In response to the other’s groaning acknowledgement of lost revenge, the astrologer says the man must never leave his northern town to travel south again, then gives him a pinch of sacred ash to rub on his forehead.

This gesture ironically symbolically aligns them in parallel religious themes as now both are liberated, the astrologer from having “a man’s blood” on his hands and the other from the quest for revenge. After saying the attacker had suitably and painfully died by being “crushed under a lorry,” the astrologer at last goes home. After supper with his wife, he confesses to her his crime while saying that a “great load is gone from [him] today.” In this new liberty, his closing words are, “Why talk of this now? Time to sleep.” He yawns and stretches out in his new liberty and peace.