Why does Guru Nayak not recognize the Astrologer?

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For some years Guru Nayak has been searching for the man posing as the astrologer. It was not a strange coincidence, but a strong likelihood that Guru Nayak would eventually come into contact with the very man he was seeking, since he has obviously been consulting many astrologers and has become familiar with all their tricks. Why does he not recognize the protagonist as the man he has been searching for?

Fortunately for the astrologer, the encounter takes place late at night. As a matter of fact, the astrologer is getting ready to quit for the night:

The nuts vendor blew out his flare and rose to go home. It was a signal for the astrologer to bundle up too, since it left him in darkness except for a little shaft of green light which strayed in from somewhere and touched the ground before him.

The visibility at night is poor at best. There is no municipal lighting. Some shops have their own crude lighting, but the astrologer depends on "the light of a flare which crackled and smoked up above the groundnut heap nearby."

The astrologer has changed, too. He has gotten older, of course. He has grown a beard to make himself look more impressive. He also paints his forehead and winds a saffron-colored turban around his head.

But his manner has changed as well. He speaks with authority. He has acquired a larger vocabulary which contains a lot of astrological terminology. Guru Nayak has remained a simple villager, but the astrologer has become urbanized. He is no longer a peasant. A big city can have that effect on a person. It is the result of having to deal with so many different types of people in order to survive.

The astrologer has acquired "street smarts" and big-city toughness. Even if Guru Nayak could see him better, he still would not recognize this urbanite as the peasant he knew. When the astrologer argues about money with his difficult client, the purpose is to distract him, to keep him from asking awkward questions or from wondering what it was about this astrologer that seemed familiar. It takes steel nerves to survive in a big city, especially with no education and no trade.

It is important, not only that Guru Nayak should not recognize the astrologer while he is talking to him, but that he should not have second thoughts about him after he has paid him and departed. Guru Nayak has gotten his money's worth. He feels satisfied that the man who stabbed him is dead:

"He died four months ago in a far-off town. You will never see any more of him."

There is a certain amount of truth in the astrologer's statement. The ignorant peasant whom Guru Nayak has been searching for no longer exists. An entirely different man—an urbanite, an astrologer, a husband, a father—has taken his place.

Stadtluft macht frei
(Urban air makes one free)
Old German saying
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