Style and Technique
“An Astrologer’s Day” is the title story of a collection by Narayan published in 1947 (in Great Britain but not in the United States); it is also the first story in Malgudi Days (1982), a retrospective volume that includes stories from several decades. It is typical of Narayan’s work not only in its themes but also in its style and structure.
The distinctive appeal of Narayan’s stories derives in part from tension between their strong emphasis on plot and their extreme brevity. “An Astrologer’s Day,” like most of Narayan’s stories, is very short, less than five pages long. Most modern short stories of its length are sketches, tending toward the plotless; in contrast, Narayan’s stories almost always have a clear dramatic action in which (in Narayan’s words) “the central character faces some kind of crisis and either resolves it or lives with it.”
“An Astrologer’s Day” features a plot twist worthy of O. Henry, but the brevity and conciseness of the tale and its low-key ending save it from the air of contrivance to which O. Henry was prone. Also notable is the irony that can be appreciated only in reading—particularly the exchange in which the astrologer assures Guru Nayak that his enemy met the fate he desired.
Another aspect of Narayan's work that has been consistently pointed out in criticism is the author's refusal to engage with the historical and political events of the time. The author does not completely disregard politics, but that is always less important than the ordinary lives of the people who live in Malgudi.
The collection itself was published in 1947, the year that India gained its independence. It was a time of considerable excitement and turmoil in the country as the British made preparations to leave, and the country was on the brink of a civil war. The conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims was becoming increasingly difficult to control and there was large-scale violence perpetrated by both sides. It was also the time when the nonviolent struggle against the British had achieved international recognition and Gandhi was seen as a major figure. The story does not provide any sense of such events.
Reading the story after five decades is a useful exercise largely because the story has not lost any of its appeal. The timeless quality of the story is also its strength, and as a result the story continues to be relevant. Despite the fact that India has made huge strides in technology and is considered highly advanced in many areas, the pace of Indian life continues to be the same. Street vendors are still a common sight, and the migration from villages to cities continues to be a typical occurrence. In that sense, no aspect of the story appears to be archaic or outdated.
Point of View
The story adopts the traditional mode of third-person omniscience. In other words, the author/narrator relates the entire story to the reader, but since the entire plot is dependent on the revelation taking place at the end, the narrator does not reveal all the aspects of character at the beginning. While the narrator is forthcoming about all the peripheral goings-on in the story, s/he is careful not to reveal to the reader anything more than would be evident to any passerby. The reader sees the plot as it is being enacted, despite the presence of the omniscient narrator. The use of dialogue throughout the story serves the function of providing multiple points of view without altering the overall authority of the narrator.
One aspect of Narayan's writing that has been noted time and again is the remarkably simple style he consistently adopts. For those who are familiar with the South Indian Tamil language, his style would come across as a curious mixture of English and Tamil. While the syntax and grammar conform to English conventions, several of the idioms are clearly influenced by Tamil. Particularly in dialogue, as in the exchange between the astrologer and Guru Nayak, the language moves between...
(The entire section is 1,860 words.)