Life of Pi
Reviewed by Efadul Huq
"This book was born as I was hungry" says Yann Martel in his 'Booker Prize 2002' winner 'Life of Pi'. Hunger which is most despised all over the world has produced something that a filled tummy wouldn't. And this different perception of the reality prevails throughout 'Life ofPi'.
Piscine Patel self-christened as Pi (as in Pi=3.14), is an exceptional young man in Pondicherry, a tiny area in southern India. Pi is the son of the zookeeper. Growing up in the zoo, Pi learns a lot about animals and shares his knowledge with the readers in the first section of the novel. He knows the ways of animals, both penned and wild, and how to keep them content and controlled. The novel at this time becomes more like a tutorial for animal tamers. But even then a reader who is disinterested in animals can't afford to put it down because of Martel's gripping storytelling and comparisons of animals with human.
As Pi steps into his teen years, he goes in search of God. His parents weren't traditional pious people, but growing up in India, Pi was initially a Hindu. When he first encounters Christianity, he finds Jesus lacking in grandeur to the Hindu gods, who are majestic in stature and history. However he embraces Christianity's message of love. Then he discovers Islam, "a beautiful religion of brotherhood and devotion." Pi becomes a devout member of all three religions, content in his newfound sense of God. Once the priest, the pundit, and the imam discover his secret worship of all three Gods, they confront Pi and his parents and tell him that he can't belong to all three and must choose one. The fractious argument among the three religious leaders over which religion he should choose is really funny. Yann Martel makes them all look spiteful as they belittle each other's faith. Pi puts them all in their place with the declaration that he was just trying to 'love God'. Moreover for him, "Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims." His naivete can be silly, but ultimately it is open-mindedness, a way of turning things upside down to see them differently forgetting the differences. His older brother provides a different perspective on it, suggesting he might try to become a Jew too. "At the rate you're going, if you go to temple on Thursday, mosque on Friday, synagogue on Saturday and church on Sunday, you only need to convert to three more religions to be on holiday for the rest of your life."
The first section of the novel ends with Pi and his family leaving India for Canada. The zoo closes and the animals are sent to zoos all over the world. The family and many of the animals board a Japanese cargo ship for their passage to Canada (Is Martel talking about Noah's Ark?!). Pi embarks on the trip to a new life. Unfortunately, his new life turns out to be unexpected and uncomfortable as the ship sinks gulping the whole family except for him.
"Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu, how good to see you, Richard Parker!" Pi Patel cries when he sees an old friend struggling aboard his lifeboat but this old friend isn't what you'll be expecting. It's a 450 pound Bengal Tiger! Pi shares the lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a ferocious Richard Parker. The first week is a horrible one as the animals battle for survival in the cramped boat and Pi quakes with fear as he tries to avoid being on the food chain. Eventually, just the tiger and he are left in the boat. The rest of the book is Pi's tale of 227 days at sea. Pi spends most of his time in despair, not just emotional, but physical. Yet, at times, he is dazzled by the wonderfulness of God's creation. He refuses to give up and die and instead lives by his wits and determination. He feeds the tiger timely so that it doesn't turn on him. He abandons being a vegetarian to survive!
Yann Martel keeps the story of Pi's miserable voyage moving at an interesting pace. You know from the beginning that Pi will survive, but at times you wonder how he will overcome each challenge. There are certain places where Pi questions you and makes you ponder over it. He sounds like a spiritual leader lost at sea! As Pi's long days at sea take a toll on his health and mind, the story begins to strain credulity. In the end Martel challenges the readers to disbelieve it all. In the end, it becomes a matter of faith!
Either it will irritate you with its idiosyncratic questions and ideas or it'll delight you with its strangeness.
The book is available at Bookworm.
Campus Buzz: Dan Brown of 'Da Vinci Code' fame is currently working on a new book called 'The Solomon Key'.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006