Whether it is a celebrated wedding, a joyful birthday, a sober bhoomi poojan or a fervent religious prayer, in India, no auspicious ceremony can be performed without consulting an astrologer. Unless and until the learned Jyotishi opens his plethora of books, makes intricate calculations and is able to place all the planets, stars and constellations in their proper positions, no decision regarding solemnization of events can take place.
Needless to say, an astrologer enjoys a cult status in the society, he is considered next to God, and is trusted blindly as far as decision of ‘Shubh Muhurat’ or matching of horoscopes is concerned. With his sound knowledge of the movement of planets and their adverse and beneficial effects on human life, he is supposed to hold the key to past, present and future for the vast majority of Indians.
Astrology is indeed a complex science, and I wholeheartedly believe in the maxims of karmas and destiny. But, should one really trust an advocate of Jyotish unthinkingly? Are all the self acclaimed astrologers sitting on pavements, reading your palms, predicting the outcome of your well sweated efforts really so knowledgeable? Or, are they just doing a job of pulling fast ones at ignorant people? What would happen if one of them is challenged? Will he be able to pass the litmus test and foresee his own future?
If you are curious enough to find answers to above mentioned questions, look no further than R.K. Narayan’s ‘An Astrologer’s Day’, a part of the collection of short stories in ‘A Town called Malgudi‘ that I am reading at present.
The present story revolves around an astrologer in Malgudi, who was “as much a stranger to stars as were his innocent customers”. Yet, he is able to make a living out of jyotish business, by saying things which astonished people, by shrewd guesswork. He is able to predict the future of people or rather make sensible guesses, using his sharp acumen and psychological intellect.
So far, he has been successful. Random comments such as “you are not getting the fullest results of your efforts” or “most of your troubles are due to your nature” have been proved easy excuses to put people off the track, and they usually left the astrologer’s corner, immensely pleased with his sharp insight and good natured advice, forgetting their real purpose for coming to him.
However, the day to which events of this particular story are based upon, prove to be difficult and quite unpredictable for the all knowing astrologer. A stranger brushes off his usual diktats and challenges him to predict his future accurately. Will the astrologer be able to save his prestige or will he lose his good reputation in the face of harsh challenge, is the basic premise of the present story, that ends quite comically.
The story is very short, hardly six pages long, but was able to bring a smile on my lips. The story is inevitably based in Malgudi. In fact, it begins in Town Hall Park, one of the favorite spots of activity in Narayan’s works. A detailed description of lovely place gave the story a very real feeling. And, as expected, I was ready for a delightful story.
However, the story turned out to be much deeper than I expected. On surface, it is just a day in the life of an astrologer, but, Narayan in his characteristic style, has transformed the story into a brilliant study of characters. He not only takes a dig at the blind trust we have in road side future vendors, but also exposes the vulnerability of human mind. He brings out the truth behind the charade played by street players on their innocent believers in open.
Somewhere, I felt the hidden voice of Chandran, who was a victim of astrology and was not able to secure his lady love in Bachelor of Arts. Incidentally, Narayan himself had to put up a brave fight with the dictators of jyotish to marry his wife. So, in a way, ‘An Astrologer’s Day’ is an attempt to show Narayan’s anger with unjust restrictions. But, he does it all in his non provoking amenable way. His sarcasm is sugar coated with humor, yet very effective.
Quite an auspicious beginning for the collection of short stories, a small treat that promises big surprises ahead!
Courtesy the present delicacy, I am hungrily moving on to ‘Lawley Road’ to savor another dish of delectable Malgudi!