„Life of Pi“, by Yann Martel is a book about the limitless possibilities of development of one’s character in the face of challenge.
“There’s no such thing as a good book or a bad book. There are beautifully written books and badly written ones That’s it!” Oscar Wilde’s statement, as written in the Preface to “The Picture of Dorian Gray” bears truth even today.
If we were to extend that idea, we could adventure a statement such as:
There’s no right or wrong interpretation of a book.
A book remains just that; until you, the reader picks it up. The moment that happens, is the moment the book comes alive.
It finds a new meaning and a new interpretation with each reader. That’s because we are different. Our perception of reality is different than that of those around us.
Therefore, there’s no right or wrong interpretation of a book. It’s just our own perspective of it that makes it unique, each time.
The book of Pi
The book is organized into three parts:
- Toronto and Pondicherry
- The Pacific Ocean
- Benito Juarez Infirmary, Tomatlan, Mexico
Each part of the book is a description of Pi’s character.
What “Toronto and Pondicherry” meant to Pi
Piscine Molitor Patel, known to all as Pi Patel, got his name from the greatest swimming pool in Paris.
Pi and his brother Ravi spent most of their childhoods at “The Pondicherry Zoo”. That’s where their father, Mr. Santosh Patel was the founder, owner, director, and head of staff of fifty-three people.
To a young Pi, the Zoo is a paradise on earth. Each character in his life taught him something. Better yet, he saw a teacher in everybody, not passing an opportunity to develop and learn. His father’s earlier business contacts, for example, Mr. Francis Adirubasamy, a man in love with swimming pools, was the one to provide him with his name.
That is the reason why Pi was attracted to three religions, believing each one made him a better servant of God. Since he couldn’t decide which one was more appropriate for him, he decided on all three. Pi was a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim.
For some reason, each religion seemed at home in Pi’s heart. The more you study religion, the more we should turn into a better version of ourselves. A better version of ourselves means accepting others as they are, not as we would like them to be.
Everybody around Pi taught him what to fear. Even his father made sure he understood the dangers of living around wild animals. They are not pets to play with, but entities able to inflict great pain, when cross.
Due to political unrest in India, the family decided to pack everything and move to Canada. The boys didn’t welcome the change lightly but accepted it. The idea of a fresh start somewhere else was both exciting and frightening.
The Pacific Ocean and Pi
The ship sank, leaving Pi alone on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orang-utan, and a tiger. The hyena ate the zebra and the orang-utan. In the end, the tiger ate the hyena.
Pi was the spectacle of all this murder. Everything happened right before his eyes. Though he has no time to think about the dead animals, since, he knows, he will be next unless he finds a viable solution.
In order to make it a worthy character, the tiger bears the name of Richard Parker. Due to a paper screw-up, the tiger got the name of his catcher.
If, in the beginning, Pi sees Richard Parker as his enemy, he slowly understands that it’s better for both of them to work together, instead of against each other. His initial hate turns into gratitude. He ends up being grateful for having gone through it all with Richard Parker.
The young boy turns into a man, without even realizing it. His theoretical life is now defined through the pragmatic perspective.
Meaning is in everything we do, from reading books to catching a fish. It’s all destined to make us never stop learning and defining ourselves.
There’s no such thing as a boring or interesting activity. There’s only the meaning that we attach to it that makes it defining.
Benito Juarez Infirmary, Tomatlan, Mexico and Pi
After being rescued, Pi receives a visit from Mr. Chiba and Mr. Okamoto. They work for the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport and are investigating the sinking of the Tsimtsum ship. Since Pi is the only remaining passenger, they would like to know exactly how it happened.
Pi tells them the story with the animals. The two gentlemen don’t buy into the story. Then, he provides a more real story, where, instead of animals, he had his mother and a Vietnamese cook on board the lifeboat.
In the end, Mr. Chiba and Mr. Okamoto understand that they will never know what happened to the ship. However, when being asked which story was more interesting, the one with the animals or the one without, they both agreed that the one with the animals was better.
“Life of Pi” is definitely a book to read. If not for the lessons, at least for the descriptions. If not for the descriptions, at least for the ideas. It may be that the lifeboat is similar to Robinson Crusoe’s island, a place of introspection and self-discovery. A place that gives human relationships, thoughts, words, and silence a different meaning.
Maybe it refers to that one experience in everyone’s life, after which we start looking at things in a different manner. Or that one person that we meet, can change the way we look at things forever. And what matters is not whether they are still in our lives or not but what we became because we knew them.
Perhaps we need a book of “Pi” once in a while, to remind ourselves to not take for granted what we have.
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