In “The Astrologer’s Story,” the title character portrays himself as a mystical, humble man in order to attract customers. He looks and dresses the part of a fortune teller, a person imbued with supernatural powers. First, he wears makeup to make him seem like a spiritual person:
His forehead was resplendent with sacred ash and vermilion.
Representing protection from sickness and evil, the dark, “sacred” ash has healing powers. The vermilion or red pigment signals a connection to the goddess Adishakti and symbolizes topics popular with fortune-seeking clients and for which he has a
working analysis of mankind’s troubles: marriage, money, and the tangles of human ties.
His utilizes facial features to his advantage in order to play the role of a mystic. He has eyes that
sparkled with a sharp abnormal gleam which was really an outcome of a continual searching look for customers, but which his simple clients took to be a prophetic light and felt comforted. The power of his eyes was considerably enhanced by their position placed as they were between the painted forehead and the dark whiskers which streamed down his cheeks.
His searching gaze for customers makes his eyes look powerful and otherworldly when in reality, they betray his predatory nature. He sports a fully grown beard in order to look like a wise old man. The framing of glimmering eyes between a painted forehead and a scraggly, long beard create the perfect package—that of a soothsayer with magical powers—to lure and swindle hapless paying clients.
Second, the astrologer wears a costume to enhance this false portrait:
To crown the effect he wound a saffron-colored turban around his head. This color scheme never failed. People were attracted to him as bees are attracted to cosmos or dahlia stalks.
In Indian culture, saffron is a sacred color that represents fire and symbolizes purity. Most significantly, saffron is considered the color of holy men and ascetics on a quest for light and truth. The saffron-colored turban fits perfectly in the astrologer’s scheme of portraying himself as a humble man with spiritual powers and supernatural visions.
Third, he surrounds himself with simple yet meaningful props. At noon each day, he takes out of his bag
his professional equipment, which consisted of a dozen cowrie shells, a square piece of cloth with obscure mystic charts on it, a notebook, and a bundle of palmyra writing.
Cowrie shells signify power, wealth, and money. The “mystic charts,” the notebook, and the scribbles on palmyra paper further enhance his image as an erudite sage. This collection of possessions also portrays him as unassuming and modest.
Finally, the astrologer physical positions himself next to a popular snack vendor in order to feed off the vendor’s business. He purposely works in a poorly lit area:
The astrologer transacted his business by the light of a flare which crackled and smoked up above the groundnut heap nearby. Half the enchantment of the place was due to the fact that it did not have the benefit of municipal lighting. The place was lit up by shop lights. One or two had hissing gaslights, some had naked flares stuck on poles, some were lit up by old cycle lamps, and one or two, like the astrologer’s, managed without lights of their own. It was a bewildering criss-cross of light rays and moving shadows.
The lack of light helps the man maintain his disguise and shields him from scrutiny. Furthermore, the few lights that do illuminate him flicker while leaving dark areas of “moving shadows.” This lighting creates a dynamic atmosphere of mysticism and magic, perfect for further reeling in customers.