Friday, June 18, 2010

an astrologer in a bazaar

How does a vendor market his goods? Sometimes, it is the changing displays that he creates, one for each day; sometimes its the unending sentences that flow out - strings of words that are so random, making little sense and yet, people listen. In his story, 'An Astrologer's Day' R.K.Narayan offers a detailed study of  strategies that are employed by people of simple means, in the competitive settings of a street bazaar. I reproduce a part of the astrologer story here.

"Punctually at midday, he opened his bag and spread out his professional equipment, which consisted of a dozen cowrie shells, a square piece of cloth with obscure mystic charts on it, a notebook and a bundle of palmyra writing. His forehead was resplendent with sacred ash and vermilion, 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 the dark whiskers which streamed down his cheeks: even a half-wit's eyes would sparkle in such a setting.

To crown the effect, he wound a saffron-coloured turban around his head. This colour 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. It was a remarkable place in many ways : a surging crowd was always moving up and down this narrow road morning till night. A variety of trades and occupations was represented all along its way : medicine-sellers, sellers of stolen hardware and junk, magicians and, above all, an auctioneer of cheap cloth, who created enough din all day to attract the whole town.

Next to him in vociferousness came a vendor of fried groundnuts, who gave his ware a fancy name each day, calling it 'Bombay IceCream' one day, and on the next, 'Delhi Almonds' and on the third 'Raja's Delicacy', and so on and so forth, and people flocked to him. A considerable portion of this crowd dallied before the astrologer too. The astrologer transacted his business by the light of a flare which crackled and smoked up above the groundnut heap nearby. Half the enchantment of the place was that it didnot have the benefit of municipal lighting. The place was lit up by shoplights. One or two had hissing gaslights, some had naked flares stuck on poles, some were lit up by old cycle lamps, and one or two, like the astrologer's managed without lights of their own. It was a bewildering criss-cross of light rays and moving shadows. This suited the astrologer very well, for the simple reason that he had not intended to be an astrologer when he began life, and he knew no more about what was going to happen to others than he knew what was going to happen to himself the next minute."


radha said...

That was a nice humourous account of the streetside astrologer. As you say, I am sure he had no clue of his future. But now that he has settled in his new profession, he is sure to make some quick money.

Indian Bazaars said...

It's an interesting account, isn't it? I thought R.K.Narayan's essays on 'Noise' and 'Crowds' are also reflective of life in Indian neighbourhoods, including bazaars.

Anil P said...

Few people could conjure up the romance of the village and its inhabitants like R K Narayan did, even if we now get to see Astrologers outside of the villages.

Deepa Raman said...

hi..the Term Indian Bazaars draw me to your Blog..its good ...writing is natural...if you happen to be in bangalore, then i do write a lot on bangalore interior stores..check it out.:)

Indian Bazaars said...

Anil : It is such a pleasure to read and re-read R.K.Narayan's writing. Thanks for leaving a comment!

Deepa : I checked out your blog. Your choice of topics is really interesting!