For a long time this book has been pending on my list of books to read this year having been recommended by a friend. With the motion picture out, I have a rule of not watching before reading the book especially if i have access to it.
PI (Piscine Patel) the main character and narrator of the story is an Indian teenage boy whose father runs a zoo in Pondichery. He develops a keen interest in the habits and adaptations of animals even after constant warning from his father who worries that the animals may harm him.
Mamaji ( meaning dear Uncle) also known as Francis Adirubasami is a close friend of the family.He speaks passionately about swimming and the beautiful pools in Paris.His father is so taken by the stories that he names Pi after the pool in Paris called Piscine Molitor becoming Piscine Molitor Patel. Mamaji who was a competitive swimmer, teaches Pi how to swim not knowing the skills would later come in handy.
Pi becomes a Hindu,Muslim and a christian at the same time creating a a funny and difficult situation for the three religious leaders who cannot agree on what religion he should be ,but calms them down by explaining that he is simply searching for God.Even though he is raised a Hindu his father advises him to search himself as he cannot serve all.
At school his teachers and fellow students mispronounce his name as Pissing instead of Piscine,as a result he uses the blackboard at every roll call to make it clear his name is Pi and equates it to the 3.14 mathematical formula.
Pi takes us through his way of life combining his love for animals,school and religion. Later on the government constitution is declared void creating political unrest which Pi believes is result of Mrs Gandhi’s decision. His father decides to move the family to Canada.Pi is not happy about it as he has gotten so accustomed to the animals. His father explains that he has made arrangements for them to be moved to different zoos in America.
The family sets sail aboard a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum along with the animals. Halfway through the Pacific,there is a storm that later causes the ship to sink.Them men aboard throw Pi in a small boat not knowing he has more company other than the Grant’s Zebra that jumped in and broke his leg.Pi unfortunately is the only human survivor. When the storm calms down he notices Orange Juice the Orangtun, a Hyena and a tiger. Perhaps as a result of the animals trying to stay alive , a survival for the fittest fight causes the death of the Zebra and Orange juice by the Hyena. The Hyena becomes so troublesome that Richard Parker the Bengal Tiger finally Kills him.Richard Parker so called as a result of paper mix up by the filing clerk though his original name was Thirsty.
The rest of the story is based on his life at sea for the 227 days or if you will a little over seven months.He is lucky to find supplies in the boat and a manual which he partly uses as his journal to write.The days are long and he devices methods to pass time,such as using the life jackets and buoys to create his own ” safe boat” for fear of Richard Parker’s wrath.Eventually he realizes they have to co-exist and with the knowledge learnt at the Zoo he establishes his territory by urinating and vomiting therein. Somehow Richard Parker gets the point. Pi then uses the whistle and a whip to tame Richard.He also hunts fish for him as a way of establishing trust and boundaries. Pi who has been a vegetarian all his life turns cannibal when he begins to eat fish and some of the meat from the cast away he met at sea who was killed by Richard ,saving his life.
Richard Parker becomes Pi’s reason for survival. He also keeps dreaming that his family was saved and he would find them on the other side happily waiting for him .When their boat lands on a floating island full of MeerKats and ground full of twisted algae.He sleeps on a tree like the Kats and discovers the algae produces an acid that poisons anything on the ground in the night hence killing.He also discovers a flower with a human tooth inside and concludes that the island kills people. After two days on the island they resume their journey.
Many days later ,they land on the shores of Mexico and Richard gets off the boat without turning back and disappears into the jungle.Pi is very disturbed that Richard doesn’t even say “good bye”
He is rescued and taken to the hospital.While in hospital two Japanese men from the shipping company visit him to investigate why the ship sank.Even though Pi has no real answer for them,he narrates his story but they feel it is too artificial.As a result he changes the characters from animals to human beings but ends up narrating the same story only with more symbolism. They admit the second story is better and more realistic which is what appears in their report
Pi gives us a different and great understanding of animals in relation to humans and how they can do unimaginable things to survive. Its good knowledge for a someone at sea or even headed for an adventure likely to encounter animals. A great book on survival tactics and the importance of appreciating people with different areas of expertise.
Watching the motion picture summed it all.I must admit though,there is more power in reading the book before watching the film. As we all know its the little details that count . Definitely a good read.