R. K. Narayan (1906 to 2001-Chennai, India) was an immensely prolific highly influential author. He was one of the very first authors from India who wrote primarily in English and was one of the very first Indian writers to be read widely outside of India. In addition to fifteen novels, he published in his life time five collections of short stories. Many of his short stories were set in a small town he created. I admit I had not heard of him prior to this morning. (There is an excellent article on him here detailing his career, life and influence). I am glad the day began for me with the discovery of a great new to me short story writer. Jhumpa Lahiri has said he can do more in a ten page short story to bring his characters to life than many other authors can do in hundreds of pages.
"An Astrologer's Day" takes place in a small in India in 1947. 1947 India gained its independence from the British Empire and was a time of immense change and turmoil. In the world of "An Astrologer's Day" it might as well be 947 or even 47 for that matter. Our central character left his home village many years ago, under a cloud of trouble we at first do not understand. He has the ability to convince others he could see into the future through reading a client's astrological chart. He marries and sets up a shop in the market by a highway in which he tells fortunes and gives advise. He has learned to listen very carefully to his clients and ask a few opened questions that give him enough data to seem to have a mysterious knowledge of the lives and future of his clients. He knows he is a fake but he has learned to give his customers what they want and he has a family to support. Here is a great sample of Narayan's prose style and description of the method of the fortune teller:
One day a stranger challenges the astrologer to look into his past and future. He gets everything right without even asking the man any questions. How he does this provides a wonderful ending to the story that really surprised me and for that matter shocked his wife when he explained to her how her was able for once to really know the truth without being told it.
"An Astrologer's Day" is a really good example of why I like short stories. In just a few pages Narayan brings to life for me a world very remote from my own experience while allowing me to project myself into the world of the story. I liked the way the astrologer is honestly a fake! The story only takes us back 64 years but it gives us a look at a a very old culture.
"An Astrologer's Day" can be read Here. It is a very good story well worth the few minutes it will take you to read it. To me any day on which I discover a great new to me author in the morning is off to a good start.