The astrologer is not truly an astrologer, but merely a man masquerading as one. He has taken on a new, fabricated identity to escape the just consequences of his attempt at murder. The astrologer no longer has any opportunity to practice authenticity; his livelihood, marriage, and very survival are all predicated on lies. Narayan uses the astrologer to contemplate the ways in which fear and guilt can push an individual to live an unauthentic, self-deceiving life.
The astrologer’s fabricated identity is a fear-driven act of self-preservation, protecting him from justice and preserving his life. The astrologer was forced to flee his home after he stabbed Guru Nayak in drunken brawl. His new profession, as well as his makeup and turban, conceal his old identity from anyone who might recognize him. No one will question the identity of a holy man, as they are more inclined to think of him by title only, rather than as a person with a name, a family, an origin. For those who believe that he is a man of great power, they would not dare to question his integrity. Even the narrator does not give a name to the man, he is only ever “the astrologer.” He has thus escaped justice and judgment at the hands of his community. Indeed, when Guru Nayak approaches him, he does not recognize the face of the man he seeks (that is, the man who tried to murder him). This is due in part to the failing light at the day’s end, but also in part to the clothing and equipment that the astrologer has surrounded himself with. Had Guru Nayak recognized the astrologer, he would likely have killed him on the spot. The astrologer is playing a long-practiced part and Guru Nayak, despite his initial skepticism, fell for it. His deception has again allowed him to escape justice, thereby prohibiting him from living honestly or sincerely.
The astrologer’s fabricated identity also hides him from his own guilt for the blood he has shed. Although the narration is written in the third-person, it is reflective of the astrologer’s state of mind. Before it is revealed that he tried to murder Guru Nayak, the telling of his leaving the village is written in an off-handed tone: an event which was slightly unfortunate, but necessary, and now long-past. This suggests that the astrologer has committed himself to his new identity, fraudulent as it is, in an effort to bury his guilt. At the end of the story, when the astrologer reveals to his wife that he had once attempted to murder a man, he shows no remorse or sense of responsibility. His only concern is that he is not a true murderer, but spares no thought for the toll that his actions had on Guru Nayak. Even when his wife is understandably shocked at the knowledge that her husband tried to kill another man, the astrologer brushes it off as the actions of “silly youngsters.” He has separated his current self from the one who attempted murder. He has effectively buried his own guilt underneath the layers of his new identity.
Motivated as he is to deceive the world and himself, the astrologer is unable to undertake genuine introspection or grow, let alone to take responsibility for what he has done. The astrologer is mired in deceit, every aspect of his life is a lie. His livelihood, though it does serve a function within the village, is based on lies. He has deceived himself that his crime will never need to be atoned for, nor should it. It is especially ironic that his chosen profession is that of a holy man, one whom others look to for virtue and counsel. The astrologer is trading on the esteemed role of religion and thousands of years of teaching, but is unwilling to absorb any of it himself. He has cynically compartmentalized his world.
When given the opportunity to face his victim and take responsibility for his crime, the astrologer dodges it. During his encounter with Guru Nayak, never does the astrologer even consider the possibility of confessing. Fate presents him with the opportunity to embrace the truth, to set aside his false identity and deceptions. Instead, the astrologer uses his guise as an omniscient figure to cast another lie, convincing Guru Nayak that his attacker was killed months before. With this in mind, the astrologer’s fear during his meeting with Guru Nayak may be as much an existential fear of facing himself as it is a simple fear for his own life. Guru Nayak’s presence resurrects the past and threatens the astrologer’s own self-deceiving identity. If one piece of his identity comes loose, it all does, and his deceptions are laid bare to himself and the world. When the astrologer tells Guru Nayak that the man he used to be was killed, the astrologer does effectively kill him; any possibility of living as his authentic self has now been shattered.
Guru Nayak works as a simple foil for the astrologer’s inauthenticity. Out of fear for his life and guilt over what he has done, the astrologer has buried his true self in the robes of religious mysticism to such an extent that Narayan never even gives him a name, referring to him exclusively as “the astrologer.” This sits in contrast to Guru Nayak, whose name literally means “teacher hero” in Hindi. Fittingly, Guru Nayak is closer to being a heroic character than the astrologer ever is, because Guru Nayak is, though bent on revenge, at least true to himself. Though it may be argued whether or not Guru Nayak’s cause is noble, there is a truthful simplicity to it that is wholly lacking in the astrologer’s life, regardless of what “good” he may offer to others.
The astrologer’s guilt and fear of retribution drive him to bury his identity until every aspect of his life is a deception. Lies must supplement lies until nothing is true, and whoever the astrologer truly is is lost. Narayan’s story thus reflects the way in which guilt and fear may drive an individual to lose sight of who they are. This is true and often happens in any culture, but would have been particularly poignant in India at the time, where honor, shame, and social standing effected every aspect of life. The challenge of living a simple, introspective, and self-aware life is especially great, and takes far more courage than the astrologer has.
Guilt, Fear, and Identity ThemeTracker
Guilt, Fear, and Identity Quotes in An Astrologer’s Day
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 his simple clients took to be a prophetic light and felt comforted. The power of his eyes was considerably enhanced by their position—placed as they were between the painted forehead and dark whiskers which streamed down his cheeks: even a half-wit’s eyes would sparkle in such a setting.
To crown the effect he wrapped a saffron-colored turban around his head. This color scheme never failed. People were attracted to him as bees are attracted to cosmos or dahlia stalks. He sat under the boughs of a spreading tamarind tree which flanked a path running through the Town Hall Park.
He had not in the least intended to be an astrologer when he began life; and he knew no more of what was going to happen to others than he knew of what was going to happen to himself next minute. He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers. Yet he said things which pleased and astonished everyone: that was more a matter of study, practice, and shrewd guesswork. All the same, it was as much an honest man’s labor as any other, and he deserved the wages he carried home at the end of a day.
He had a working analysis of mankind’s troubles: marriage, money, and the tangle of human ties. Long practice had sharpened his perception. Within five minutes he understood what was wrong. He charged three pies per question, never opened his mouth till the other had spoken for at least ten minutes, which provided him enough stuff for a dozen answers and advices. When he told a person before him gazing at his palm, “In many ways you are not getting the fullest results of for your efforts,” nine out of ten were disposed to agree with him […] Or he gave an analysis of character: “Most of your troubles are due to your nature. How can you be otherwise with Saturn where he is? You have an impetuous nature and a rough exterior.” This endeared him to their hearts immediately, for even the mildest of us loves to think he has a forbidding exterior.
“Stop,” said the other. “I don’t want all that. Shall I succeed in my present search or not? Answer this and go. Otherwise I will not let you go till you disgorge all your coins.” The astrologer muttered a few incantations and replied: “All right. I will speak… You were left for dead. Am I right?”
“Ah, tell me more.”
“A knife passed through you once?” said the astrologer.
“Good fellow!” He bared his chest to show the scar. “What else?”
“And then you were pushed into a well nearby in the field. You were left for dead.”
“I should have been dead if some passer-by had not chanced to peep into the well,” exclaimed the other, overwhelmed by enthusiasm. “When shall I get at him?” he asked, clenching his fist.
“In the next world,” answered the astrologer. “He died four months ago in a far-off town. You will never see any more of him.”
After dinner, sitting on the pyol, he told her: “Do you know a great load is gone from me today? I thought I had the blood of a man on my hands all these years. That was the reason why I ran away from home, settled here, and married you. He is alive.”
She gasped. “You tried to kill!”
“Yes, in our village, when I was a silly youngster. We drank, gambled, and quarreled badly one day—why think of it now? Time to sleep,” he said, yawning, and stretched himself on the pyol.