What is most effective about "An Astrologer's Day" is not what might be called the "manifest" story but the background story. The story about the encounter with Guru Nayak makes it dramatic, but the picture of the impoverished masses of India and one man's struggle for daily survival seem like the "real" story. Narayan focuses on one man who seems unusual but is really like everybody else. He was one of many peasants who came to the big city--a phenomenon which is happening all over the world. He had to find a way to survive or else starve to death in the streets. He has survived because of his superior cunning and audacity. He has made himself look different from everybody else, but he is just another uneducated, unskilled newcomer who has to adapt to harsh, mysterious urban living conditions or perish. That he has been successful is shown by the fact that he has married and is now supporting a wife and a child. He brings home just enough little coins for his wife to be able to buy food for another day. We feel sorry for this woman, too. She has to wait all day for her husband to return, never knowing what he will bring her. The family could go hungry if he had a bad day, or if the weather turned bad and people stayed away from the park. He is so desperate for money that he bargains with the ferocious Guru Nayak even when his life is in danger.
"Stop," said the other. "I don't want all that. Shall I succeed in my present search or not? Answer this and go. Otherwise I will not let you go till you disgorge all your coins." The astrologer muttered a few incantations and replied: "All right. I will speak. But will you give me a rupee if what I say is convincing? Otherwise I will not open my mouth, and you may do what you like."
This story is all about survival. Peasants can live without money, but city dwellers have to pay for virtually everything they need. Those few coins the astrologer collects are the difference between life and death. He has had to learn to be tough and tenacious, especially since he no longer has just himself to protect. Everybody needs a little niche on this overcrowded planet. He has managed to find his own peculiar niche and is clinging to it. He not only poses as an astrologer, but he sometimes has to prove he is an astrologer in order to maintain his niche. No doubt there are many skeptics like Guru Nayak who would like to expose him as an imposter, but Guru Nayak has been his worst opponent so far.
The description of the setting is especially striking. We can visualize the masses of poor people who seem to be milling together in masses everywhere. They have no money, so their entertainment consists of walking in the park and stopping to gaze at whatever there is to see.
It was a remarkable place in many ways: a surging crowd was always moving up and down this narrow road morning till night....It was a bewildering criss-cross of light rays and moving shadows.
These shadows are cast by the hapless people of India.