I came across this book recommendation by actress Andie MacDowell in an issue of Oprah. The book, about the adventure of a boy sounded interesting. I borrowed it from the library for Aaron to read it. He couldn’t put it down. When asked for his comment at the end of it, his answer was, it’s a good book but weird.
My friend D saw my book on the table when she was visiting a few days ago and excitedly told me she read it too. How was it?
‘It’s so weird and I didn’t like the ending.’ She said.
The book is not weird. It’s different. I don’t know if it’s a fictional tale from the mind of a very imaginative author, or that it’s really true, as stated in the author’s note.
Pi, as in π = 3.14, was born in Pondicherry in the Tamil Nadu state of India. He was named Piscine Patel, French for pool (as in swimming pool) by his father’s swimmer friend. He grew up in the 70’s during Mrs Gandhi premiership.
As a boy, he was forever teased by friends. Pissing Patel, they would call him, until he decided to give himself a nickname, Pi. Pi’s father owns a small zoo. With that, the readers are given an interesting account of what it’s like to live in a zoo, and the various quirks and facts on animals, like how territorial wild animals are and what a circus trainer must do to train lions. An important fact in the book.
One day, Pi’s father decided to teach Pi and his brother, Ravi, a lesson on the danger of wild animals, for his father was afraid that living in the zoo would bring about complacency and thus danger. That was an important chapter for the reader as much as for Pi.
Pi was born a Hindu and attended missionary school. When he was fourteen, he was introduced to Jesus Christ and Islam followed immediately after. He became a practising Hindu, Christian and Muslim. Why? He just wanted to love God and quoting Gandhi, all religions are true. He was told by the head of each religion that he needed to choose one. Pi said, ‘As if this small mindedness did God any good. To me, religion is about our dignity, not depravity.’ With supportive parents, he was baptised and got a Muslim prayer rug.
Pi’s family decided to migrate to Canada when the Tamil Nadu government was brought down by Delhi in February 1976.
‘People move because of the wear and tear of anxiety. Because of the gnawing feeling that no matter how hard they work their efforts will yield nothing, that what they build up in one year will be torn down in one day by others. Because of the impression that the future is blocked up, that they might do all right but not their children. Because of the feeling that nothing will change, that happiness and prosperity are possible somewhere else.’ That’s a lesson for any government facing large drove of immigration.
And so, the family made preparation to leave India. Arrangement was made to dispose of the zoo animals, through exchanges and sale with other zoos in India and around the world. The family set sail on a Japanese ship Tsimtsum for Toronto, with their brood of animals, stopping along the way to drop some animals off along various ports.
Midway in the Pacific Ocean, Tsintsum sank, but Pi was miraculously thrown into a lfeboat by the Taiwanese crew. As his hope faded on being rescued a few days after the mishap, he took charged and made a list of the what he had with him on board. The long list started with 192 tablets of anti-seasickness medicine, 124 tin cans of 500 ml fresh water…and ended with one notebook with 98 lined pages, one boy with a complete set of light clothing but one lost shoe, one spotted hyena, one Bengal tiger, one lifeboat, one ocean and one God. (That was after the spotted hyena ate the orang utan and the zebra, the gore and horror of it described in details.)
Page 116-117 tells all about Hyena, not exactly a lovable animal.
The tale climaxed when the Hyena was killed by the Royal Bengal Tiger, named Richard Parker. (When Richard Parker’s name first cropped up in the first chapter, I had thought Pi and him was having a gay affair.) How does one live in a lifeboat for 227 days with a man-eating tiger and survived to tell the tale?
The chapters on the castaways were a fascinating read. Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny (his plans to kill the tiger), and other times really gruesome (eating RP’s poo, yuks!). I give you a peek to it:
…to be a castaway is to be caught up in grim and exhausting opposites. When it is light, the openness of the sea is blinding and frightening. When it is dark,, the darkness is claustrophobic. When it is day, you are hot and wish to be cool and dream of ice cream and pour sea water on yourself. When it is night, you are cold and wish to be warm and dream of hot curries and warp yourself in blankets. When it is hot, you are parched and wish to be wet. When it rains, you are nearly drowned and wish to be dry. When there is food, there is too much and you must feast, When there is none, there is truly none and you starve…
Yann Martel is a delight when it comes to describing the scenes – I grabbed the rat and threw it his way. I can see it in my mind as it sailed through the air – its outstretched claws and erect tail, it’s tiny elongated scrotum and pinpoint anus. RP opened his mouth and the squealing rat disappeared into it like a baseball into a catcher’s mitt. Its hairless tail vanishes like a spaghetti noodle sucked into a mouth.
However, one needs a good knowledge on parts of a lifeboat to accurately imagine the stage set that is the lifeboat, hull, stern, gunnel. I couldn’t.
An exceedingly enjoyable book.