Jul 24, 2011

An Astrologer’s Day – A Short Story by R. K. Narayan

Contextual Question and Answers 
1. “His forehead was resplendent with sacred ash and vermillion, and
his eyes sparkled with a sharp abnormal gleam which was really an
outcome of a continual searching look for customers, but which is
simple clients took to be a prophetic light and felt comforted.” 
i) Whose appearance is being described here? What more do we learn
about him and his profession? 
        The extract describes the astrologer’s appearance in a succinct yet
very clear manner.
        His appearance is striking. His forehead being painted with holy ash
and vermillion dazzled in a conspicuous manner while the strange gleam
in his eyes seemed to be a visionary one to his clients although that
is actually the result of his perpetually searching for customers. It
is self-evident that he is a soothsayer. 
ii) What else does the writer tell us about his eyes in the lines that
        The charisma of his eyes is intensified as the pair of eyes is
flanked by the bright forehead on one side and the dark whiskers
streaming down his cheeks on the other. Narayan humourously says here
that even a fool would look charismatic with such singularly
impressive features. 
iii) The writer takes pains to describe the impressive appearance ‘he’
has. What are the highlights of that description? 
        The astrologer has not only the traditional paste of holy ash and
vermillion applied on his forehead but also wears a bright gleam in
his eyes. The position of his eyes between the dazzling forehead and
the streaming beard announce his trade to his clients loud and clear.
The saffron-turban which he wears adds a telling effect to his overall
iv) Where did he ply his trade? How did the setting help in attracting
his customers? 
        He pursued his trade under a tamarind tree standing beside a pathway
running through the Town Hall Park.
        The setting was an ideal one because a large crowd went up and down
the pathway from morning till night and a good number of them were the
astrologer’s prospective customers. Moreover, the man had interesting
peddlers as his neighbours, some of whose customers would get drawn to
him to know their future.
v) Who were the other traders and vendors who did their business
around him? 
        A man sold medicines near him. Another peddled junk goods and stolen
hardware at throw-away prices. A magician would be showing sleight of
hands while another would create enough interest among the passing
crowd by auctioning cheap clothes. And then there was the hawker who
drew a good crowd around him because of his excellent salesmanship. He
would sell the same fried groundnuts every day but would canvass his
fare in different fancy names like Bombay Ice Cream, Delhi Almond, and
so on and so forth on different days. 

Q. The main story centres on (I think the correct preposition should
be on instead of
around) the reason as to why the astrologer left his village. Describe
briefly how he
was able to resolve the fear he had been living in since he left his

        Having been involved in a violent brawl in his village and assuming
that he
had human blood on his hand, our protagonist, the astrologer had to
leave his native
place suddenly and settled down in a town a couple of hundred miles
away. The
fugitive however showed admirable common sense in choosing a vocation
here which
required good knowledge of human nature and the capability to sense
correctly and these two traits he possessed in plenty. 

        He was really good at his trade although he was as ignorant of
astrology as
his clients were. He was careful in choosing a place where a large
number of people
came everyday. The tools of his trade such as cowrie shells, mystic
charts, a notebook
and palmyra leaves with mystic writings on them did a lot to draw
clients to him. He
made up his face also as his vocation would demand of him. The allure
of the saffron
turban , the vermillion mark on his forehead, the dark, flowing
whiskers and above
all his gleaming pair of eyes were simply too much to be ignored by
his clients. 

        Moreover, the astrologer knew what common doubts and questions
have; mostly they would be concerned about the prospects of getting a
money-matters, family troubles, love or ill health. Clever as he was,
the astrologer
would let his clients talk to him uninterrupted for a few minutes and
he would have
enough clues as to how to make his predictions. Sometimes he would
his customer saying that he had a soft heart though he looked
otherwise from
outside. To some, he would say that he was not getting the results of
his hard work
and the customer would agree. 

        He was earning his bread and butter in this manner, got married and
was getting
along rather admirably but the fear that the man whom he had wounded
might not have
died after all and might arrive in the city to take revenge or the
police would some day
catch him for murdering his buddy, would keep on weighing down on him
at the back of
his mind. It so happened that the man did really arrive one day but
the astrologer saved
himself by his presence of mind. He advised Guru Nayak that his
adversary was already
dead and that he should never leave home if he wanted to live long. 

        When the man looked gratified, the astrologer heaved a sigh of relief
and went