The Astrologer

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 671

The two main characters of the story are the astrologer, who is not given a name, and Guru Nayak, the client who turns out to be a former victim, now on a quest for revenge. The astrologer is not given a name partly because he is intended to be seen, for most of the story, as a typical figure, one of the many who conduct their business in makeshift locations in the city, and partly because the narrative mode does not require that he be given a name. It is only at the end of the story that the astrologer is given an individuality that makes him a distinctive figure. Also, in the story he interacts only with two characters: the first, a passerby who seeks his advice about the future. The relation between the two is purely functional, and there would be no need for the person to address the astrologer by name. The second is the astrologer's wife, who speaks to him at the end of the story. In this instance, convention demands that she should not use his name to address him: In a typical South Indian family it would be rare for a wife to address her husband by name. Hence, despite the latitude of omniscient narration, the author chooses to let the astrologer remain anonymous.

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Nonetheless, the astrologer comes across as a sharply defined figure, mainly as a result of the assortment of objects he carries with him in order to create the illusion of spirituality and mystical knowledge. The care he takes over his personal appearance is yet another aspect of his charisma. The profession of an astrologer presupposes a commitment to religious observance, and that is precisely what this character achieves through his eclectic collection of articles. The bundle of palmyra writing (script on the leaves of a palmyra tree) in particular lends a very authentic touch, since such writings reflect both wisdom and a high degree of learning. The combination of holy ash and vermillion on his forehead, the turban on his head, and his whiskers, all taken together, give the impression of a man given to a holy life rather than business. The author ensures that despite the external trappings, the astrologer is not necessarily a negative or rogue figure. Telling the future is a job, not unlike selling peanuts or cloth, and he does this with a sense of purpose and commitment. Within the overall structure of the story, it is important for the astrologer to come across as a somewhat mild and inoffensive person who had left his village to escape a life of poverty. His portrayal as a positive character helps to offset the revelation at the end that he had left the village after having committed a crime. The important aspect of the astrologer's character is that as the story progresses he moves from being a type to a carefully individualized person.

The first three pages of the story are devoted to description of the astrologer and his surroundings. Roadside astrologers are a common sight in India, and the general perception is that they make their living by exploiting the gullibility of people who seek their advice. This astrologer is no different, except that he comes across as a shrewd and intelligent man whose livelihood depends on turning every occurrence to his advantage. Having no lighting system of his own, he manages to get by on his adjoining vendor's light. When the groundnut seller closes shop, he has no lighting to conduct his business, and he too leaves for home. Similarly, when his clients seek his advice, he lets them speak long enough in order to gather sufficient information to make an educated guess about their future. His intuitive understanding of human nature and his wit are crucial to the plot of the story, and the relevance of all the details becomes evident at the end of the story. Among the trickster figures that Narayan has created in his work, the astrologer is a...

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