Life of Pi – a Perplexed Boy’s Inquisitive Journey
Canadian writer Yann Martel’s spectacular novel “Life of Pi” is about a boy and his perplexed inquisitive journey through life. He is a boy of Indian origin.
“Life of Pi” is a story of this amazing boy Piscine Molitol who due to the deliberate distortion of his first name to “pissing”, obviously likes to be called as Pi as the irrational number Pi is pronounced. This is the story of Pi and an elegant and monstrous Royal Bengal Tiger, both of them are entrapped in a lifeboat, the struggle for survival, outmaneuvering nature and clinging on the ingenuity of instinct and his steadfast belief in multiple faiths, namely, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, makes this story a memorable one.
Along with its serious theme of life and death, this novel is quite funny as well. Pi’s earlier childhood was full of nostalgic memories in the middle of a zoo that his father owned. There was the atheist teacher who opens Pi’s eyes on nature the way he never had seen before. Pi’s successive journey to a Church, Mosque and a Temple, made him embrace each of these religions simultaneously. For Pi, each of these religions offered him a sense of peace that he did not wish to renounce by accepting any one specific religion and denouncing others. And Atheism had its own appeal to him as well.
I have attached a snippet from this lovable novel.
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 10, 2003
From Chapter 8
It was on a Sunday morning. I was quietly playing on my own. Father called out.
Children, come here.”
Something was wrong. His tone of voice set off a small alarm bell in my head. I quickly reviewed my conscience. It was clear. Ravi must be in trouble again. I wondered what he had done this time. I walked into the living room. Mother was there. That was unusual. The disciplining of children, like the tending of animals, was generally left to Father. Ravi walked in last, guilt written all over his criminal face.
“Ravi, Piscine, I have a very important lesson for you today.”
“Oh really, is this necessary?” interrupted Mother. Her face was flushed.
I swallowed. If Mother, normally so unruffled, so calm, was worried, even upset, it meant we were in serious trouble. I exchanged glances with Ravi.
“Yes, it is,” said father, annoyed. “It may very well save their lives.”
Save our lives! It was no longer a small alarm bell that was ringing in my head – they were big bells now, like the ones we heard from Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, not far from the zoo.
“But Piscine? He’s only eight,” Mother insisted.
“He’s the one who worries me the most.”
I’m innocent!” I burst out. “It’s Ravi’s fault, whatever it is. He did it!”
“What?” said Ravi. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” He gave me the evil eye.
“Shush!” said Father, raising his hand. He was looking at Mother. “Gita, you’ve seen Piscine. He’s at that age when boys run around and poke their noses everywhere.”
Me? A run-arounder? An everywhere-nose-poker? Not so, not so! Defend me, Mother, defend me, I implored in my heart. but she only sighed and nodded, a signal that the terrible business could proceed.
“Come with me”, said Father.
We set out like prisoners off to their execution.
We left the house, went through the gate, entered the zoo. It was early and the zoo hadn’t opened yet to the public. Animal keepers and groundskeepers were going about their work. I noticed Sitaram, who oversaw the orang-utans, my favorite keeper. He paused to watch us go by. We passed birds, bears, apes, monkeys, ungulates, the terranium house, the rhinos, the elephants, the giraffes.
We came to the big cats, our tigers, lions and leopards. Babu, their keeper, was waiting for us. We went round and down the path, and he unlocked the door to the cat house, which was at the center of a moated island. We entered. It was a vast and dim cement cavern, circular in shape, warm and humid, and smelling of cat urine. All around were great big cages divided up by thick, green, iron bars. A Yellowish light filtered down from the skylights. Through the cage exits we could see the vegetation of the surrounding island, flooded with sunlight. The cages were empty – save one: Mahisha, our Bengal tiger patriarch, a lanky, hulking beast of 550 pounds, had been detained. As soon as we stepped in, he loped up to the bars of his cage and set off a full-throated snarl, ears flat against his skull and round eyes fixed on Babu. The sound was so loud and fierce it seemed to shake the whole cat house. My knees started quaking. I got close to Mother. She was trembling, too. Even Father seemed to pause and steady himself. Only Babu was indifferent to the outburst and to the searing stare that bored into him like a drill. He had a tested trust in iron bars. Mahisha started pacing to and fro against the limits of his cage.
Father turned to us. “What animal is this?” he bellowed above Mahisha’s snarling.
“It’s a tiger,” Ravi and I answered in unison, obediently pointing out the blindingly obvious.
“Are tigers dangerous?”
“Yes, Father, tigers are dangerous.”
“Tigers are very dangerous,” Father shouted. “I want you to understand that you are never – under any circumstances – to touch a tiger, to pet a tiger, to put your hands through the bars of a cage, even to get close to a cage. Is that clear? Ravi?”
Ravi nodded vigorously.
I nodded even more vigorously.
He kept his eyes on me.
I nodded so hard I’m surprised my neck didn’t snap and my head fall to floor.
I would like to say in my own defence that though I may have anthropomorphized the animals till they spoke fluent English, the pheasants complaining in uppity British accents of their tea being cold and the baboons planning their bank robbery getaway in the flat, menacing tones of American gangsters, the fancy was always conscious. I quite deliberately dressed wild animals in tame costumes of my imagination. But I never deluded myself as to the real nature of my playmates. My poking nose had more sense than that. I don’t know where Father got the idea that his youngest son was itching to step into a cage with a ferocious carnivore. But wherever the strange worry came from – and Father was a worrier – he was clearly determined to rid himself of it that very morning.
“I’m going to show you how dangerous tigers are,” he continued. “I want you to remember this lesson for the rest of your lives.”
He turned to Babu and nodded. Babu left. Mahisha’s eyes followed him and did not move from the door he disappeared through. He returned a few seconds later carrying a goat with its legs tied. Mother gripped me from behind. Mahisha’s snarl turned into a growl deep in the throat.
Babu unlocked, opened, entered, closed and locked a cage next to the tiger’s cage. bars and a trapdoor separated the two. Immediately Mahisha was up against the dividing bars, pawing them. To his growling he now added explosive, arrested woofs. Babu placed the goat on the floor; its flanks were heaving violently, its tongue hung from its mouth, and its eyes were spinning orbs. He untied its legs. The goat got to its feet. Babu exited the cage in the same careful way he had entered it. The cage had two floors, one level with us, the other at the back, higher by about three feet, that led outside to the island. The goat scrambled to this second level. Mahisha, now unconcerned with Babu, paralleled the move in his cage in a fluid, effortless motion. He crouched and lay still, his slowly moving tail the only sign of tension.
Babu stepped up to the trapdoor between the cages and started pulling it open. In anticipation of satisfaction, Mahisha fell silent. I heard two things at that moment: Father saying “Never forget this lesson” as he looked on grimly; and the bleating of the goat. It must have been bleating all along, only we couldn’t hear it before.
I could feel Mother’s hand pressed against my pounding heart.
The trapdoor resisted with sharp cries. Mahisha was beside himself – he looked as if he were about to burst through the bars. He seemed to hesitate between staying where he was, at the place where his prey was closest but most certainly out of reach, and moving to the ground level, further away but where the trapdoor was located. He raised himself and started snarling again.
The goat started to jump. It jumped to amazing heights. I had no idea a goat could jump so high. But the back of the cage was a high and smooth cement wall.
With sudden ease the trapdoor slid open. Silence fell again, except for bleating and the click-click of the goat’s hooves against the floor.
A streak of black and orange flowed from one cage to the next.
Normally the big cats were not given food one day a week, to simulate conditions in the wild. We found out later that Father had ordered that Mahisha not be fed for three days.
I don’t know if I saw blood before turning into Mother’s arms or if I daubed it on later, in my memory, with a big brush. But I heard. It was enough to scare the living vegetarian daylights out of me. Mother bundled us out. We were in hysterics. She was incensed.
“How could you, Santosh? They’re children! They’ll be scarred for the rest of their lives.”
Her voice was hot and tremulous. I could see she had tears in her eyes. I felt better.
“Gita, my bird, it’s for their sake. What if Piscine had stuck his hand through the bars of the cage one day to touch the pretty orange fur? Better a goat than him, no?”
His voice was soft, nearly a whisper. He looked contrite. He never called her “my bird” in front of us.
We were huddled around her. He joined us. But the lesson was not over, though it was gentler after that.
Father led us to the lions and leopards.
:”Once there was a madman in Australia who was a black belt in karate. He wanted to prove himself against the lions. He lost. Badly. The keepers found only half his body in the morning.”
The Himalayan bears and the sloth bears.
“One strike of the claws from these cuddly creatures and your innards will be cooped out and splattered all over the ground.”
“With those soft, flabby mouths of theirs they’ll crush your body to a bloody pulp. On land they can outrun you.”
“The strongest jaws in nature. Don’t think that they’re cowardly or that they only eat carion. They’re not and they don’t! They’ll start eating you while you’re still alive.”
“As strong as ten men. They’ll break your bones as if they were twigs. I know some of them were once pets and you played with them whey were small. But now they’re grown-up and wild and unpredictable.”
“Looks flustered and silly, doesn’t it? Listen up: it’s one of the most dangerous animals in a zoo. Just one kick and your back is ……………..
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