An Astrologer’s Day: A Critical Appreciation
R.K. Narayan, the winner of Sahitya Academy Award, is one of the most famous Indian writers in Indian English writing. He achieved international acclaim as a prolific and perfect storyteller. He wrote several stories which fascinated the readers throughout the world. An Astrologer’s Day is one of them. This is the first beautiful short story in Narayan's anthology called Malgudi Days.
An Astrologer’s Day is a very short story. It is very typical in its theme and style. It deals with the themes of fear, revenge, freedom, deception, guilt, relief and the ironies of life. It combines suspense, realism, and thriller genres. Here the central character, the Astrologer, faces some kind of crisis and resolves it at the end. The interesting plot, the element of suspense, the logical climax, the figurative language and the underlying meaning behind the story are the important elements of this story. These elements have been artistically interwoven in the story and that is why this story becomes impressive and interesting.
The narrator of the story seems to be omniscient. It seems that he knows everything and describes the things in third person. He describes a day in the life of an astrologer. The astrologer lays out all of his professional equipment, which consisted of a dozen cowries’ shells, a square piece of cloth, a notebook and a bundle of Palmyra writing. He uses sacred ash and vermilion on his forehead as makeup and a turban on his head to make himself appear more mystical. By chance he becomes an astrologer. Thus he is a stranger to the stars as much his innocent clients. A perfect picture of an astrologer has been presented and his shrewdness is very well described by Narayan. The astrologer’s place of work finds fantastic expression in this story.
The narrator narrates the past story of the astrologer. Circumstances compel him to leave his small village stealthily without any previous plan. This creates curiosity in the minds of the reader. What has happened in his past? One day when the astrologer starts to pack up at the end of the day, an unusual client appears in the scene to consult the astrologer. The story takes a new turn when he compels the astrologer to answer his specific questions. The astrologer succeeds in bargaining and the interesting part of the story begins. The stranger is a smoker who uses the match stick to light his cheroot. The astrologer catches a glimpse of his face in that light of the match stick as it was darkness there. What the astrologer says hereafter is the subject of amazement. The astrologer then starts telling the past story of the stranger. He tells the stranger that once he was stabbed by one of his friends. That friend then pushed him into a well to die. It was the truth of the life of the stranger. The astrologer then calls his name - Guru Nayak. Guru Nayak is completely stumped. The stranger asks about the location of his enemy. The astrologer advises that he should give up his hunt because the assailant is now no more in the world. Four months ago in a far off town he has been crushed under a lorry. Nayak is pleased by this news. The astrologer also advises Guru Nayak to go home and stay up there and never travel southward again. If he does so, he will surely be killed.
The story takes another twist when the astrologer reaches home and after a nice dinner he tells his wife his past story. He says that when he was a youngster, got drunk, gambled and got into a quarrel. He adds that in a fit of rage he stabbed Nayak and pushed him into the well and left him to die. Due to this he left his village, settled here, and married her. And this was how he could so correctly talk of Guru Nayak’s troubled past. All these years he had thought that the blood of a man was on his hands. But now the man he thought he had killed is alive. Thus he can sleep with a light heart now. The story thus ends.
In this beautiful story there are mainly two characters- the astrologer and the client. The character of the wife of the astrologer is a supporting character. The protagonist of this story is an astrologer. The astrologer’s name has not been mentioned in the story. He is a ‘round character’. He develops with the development of the plot. The appearance of the astrologer is very well described by the author. The client seems to be a nice person. He is a very straightforward. He is not cunning. Like a child he shows his happiness when he gets to know that some harm has been done to his enemy. This child like attitude gives him a sense of innocence and virtue. He is a strong person who holds the astrologer strongly and demands for an instant answer. His name is Guru Nayak. It is revealed by the astrologer. He plays a pivotal role in the development and climax of the plot. The wife of the astrologer plays an important part in the denouement of the story. She is the listener of the past story of the astrologer. She is an ideal house wife and a caring mother. She believes in whatever her husband says. Simplicity, symbolism, simile, satire, suspense, surprise ending, irony, incongruity and catchy phrases are part and parcel of the style of this story. Each of these aspects plays significant role to form the entire plot of the story. The syntax and grammar conform to English conventions. Irony is notable. The author uses ironic comment on the astrologer’s crafty ways of carrying out his profession. There are many instances where figurative languages have been used In short, R.K. Narayan is a great artist who creates a perfect atmosphere for this story. It shows how fate changes the life of a man dramatically. The story is both exciting and moving.