An Astrologer's Day

by R. K. Narayan

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What is the role of fate and chance in "An Astrologer's Day"?

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Fate refers to the development and occurrence of events beyond a person's control and is normally regarded as being determined by a supernatural power, such as a god, that is believed to control a person's destiny. Chance, on the other hand, can refer either to the possibility of something happening or the occurrence and development of events without evidence of any obvious design.

In the story, the confluence of both elements creates an interesting encounter that is both ironic and intriguing. The astrologer sets up a workplace as an astrologer after he leaves his home village. He is clearly obligated to do so since he mentions regret about having to leave. In this instance, it is fate that compelled the change. He is destined to be in the position he finds himself in. 

On the specific day in question, while the astrologer is busy packing up, he sees a possible client. The meeting between him and this individual seems to be ruled by chance. It is also by chance that his visitor lights up a cheroot and he is able to recognize him. He realizes that it is a man whom he stabbed and dropped down a well, leaving him for dead, many years ago when he was still an irresponsible young man. 

It becomes apparent later that it was because he believed that he had killed this man, Guru Nayak, that he left his village, possibly to escape retribution. Fate intervened and Nayak survived the attack. Their chance encounter is the result of Nayak having also left the same village to find his erstwhile attacker and take revenge. Fate, once again, intervenes, for Nayak does not recognize the astrologer as his assailant.

The fact that the astrologer recognizes his past victim gives him the chance to save himself from any possible future persecution. He, in the role of astrologer, is very convincing: he provides his client exact details of his attack and tells him that the perpetrator has been killed by a lorry. In the end, it is the coming together of both fate and chance that resolves the issues that both characters have. One finds resolution through a lie, while the other finds resolution in a truth—the fact that a victim he thought was dead is actually alive.

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In "An Astrologer's Day," the role of fate or chance is evident. It is by chance that the astrologer set up his place of business in the area that Guru Nayak just happened to pass by. Guru Nayak has no idea who the astrologer really is. By chance, Guru Nayak lights a cheroot and the astrologer can see Guru Nayak's face. 

As fate would have it, Guru Nayak is not dead. He is searching for the astrologer, not knowing he is talking to him. Because of fate, Guru Nayak survives the stabbing wounds of the astrologer years ago. Now, he is searching to find the man who stabbed him many years ago. By chance, Guru Nayak comes upon the astrologer. He does not recognize the astrologer as his attacker.

As fate would have it, the astrologer goes unrecognized. He escapes with Guru Nayak's money and his life. It was not in the stars for the astrologer to be recognized by Guru Nayak.

The astrologer tells Guru Nayak what he wants to hear. He prophesies that the astrologer is indeed dead, killed by a truck. Guru Nayak leaves the astrologer with peace of mind that his attacker is dead. The astrologer is relieved that he did not kill a man he thought he had killed. The story has a happy ending because of fate and chance. 

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Bring out the role of fate in shaping the events of "An Astrologer's Day."

Fate may be defined as an event or happenstance that unavoidably befalls, or occurs to, a person. The major instances of the presence of fate in "An Astrologer's Day" are the lighting the astrologer uses; the cheroot the customer lights; the recognizability of their faces. Narayan spends a great deal of time in the pages of his story describing the setting and the astrologer. Part of the reason for this is so that the reader recognizes the role of fate regarding the lighting, cheroot, and the astrologer's face.

His face is described as being resplendent with "sacred ash and vermilion" and topped by a "saffron-coloured turban" wound around his head. In between these were his sparkling, powerful eyes and his long heavy dark whiskers:

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 : even a half-wit's eyes would sparkle in such a setting.

It is this way of presenting himself--and the change to the quality of his eyes, with their "sharp abnormal gleam"--that made his face unrecognizable. In this way fate intervenes to shape events and to allow the astrologer to remain a stranger in the presence of the man whom he had wronged so many years ago. 

In contrast, it is the lighting of the customer's cheroot (i.e., open-ended cigar) "by the matchlight" that illuminates the customer's face allowing the astrologer to recognize him. Narayan describes the lights of the market with specific detail and makes it clear that the astrologer is bathed in shadow touched only by ambient light. By these features, fate intervenes to shape events through the physical lighting and the lighting of the cheroot to allow the customer to be recognized by the hidden astrologer.

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