“Tiger training in the midst of the pacific !” I replied in return to a friends sms, asking me what I was up to on a sunday afternoon ?
I was reading ‘Life of Pi’ written by Yan Martel, a book which according to Wiki won the Man bookers prize for fiction. I am not an avid reader, but I do hook on to the odd book now and then.
This story revolves around the Life of the protagonist, ‘Piscine Molitor Patel’ a.k.a Pi, who is from Pondicherry, India. The story starts in Pi’s childhood, the son of a zoo owner and his experiments with practicing various religions and his faith in god. Pi loses his family in a ship wreck on its journey to Canada. Soon Pi finds himself to be the sole human survivor aboard a lifeboat with a Royal Bengal Tiger as his companion. The tale then turns to castaway Pi’s life aboard his lifeboat and his wit to keep himself alive from being eaten by his companion, till such time as he can be rescued.With resolute faith in God Pi is determined to survive and survive he does ! Pi’s effort to survive on the Pacific has its tinge of gruesomeness, but it’s only so if one sees it in the context of ordinary human life. Seen from the point of view of a desperate castaway the gruesomeness turns into a milder understanding and compassion.
At times the plot seemed to be incredulous and I intended to put the book down, letting go off Pi in the middle of the Pacific. But Yan Martel seemed to have done a lot of research in gathering real life facts (Well either that or he has really cooked things up so well that it seemed real !) on marine life, zoo keeping, the art of training circus animals, survival techniques etc etc weaving it throughout the story, which made the plot seem plausible if not possible. I stuck on to the end and boy was I glad, I did ! The story doesn’t end just with Pi being rescued but continues on to his interview with the shipping company officials, who do not believe his story. Pi then offers another story which turns the entire story on its head ! I will let interested readers find that out for themselves!
The author states in the beginning – ‘That’s what fiction is all about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence’ and this novel seems to have done just that – brilliantly ! The plot line of the book was without question fascinating – possibly its biggest strong point. But a story is only as good as its narration and the author did an excellent job of holding it together with vivid description and a couple of excellent twists.
The book has another angle to it where by the author has punctuated the story with insights on human physcology about things, like understanding and viewing various religion, about life etc, which I felt added a certain beauty and charm and contributed to the reading pleasure. I found this small piece to be particularly well written – “The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity — it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud.”
Yan Martel has been able to get the fine balance of walking the story on the edge of realism with an extrapolation into fiction. The story made me wonderstruck at the capability of human mind to stretch its imagination.
I found the book immensely helpful during my 4 hours journey to and fro from office ! I would recommend it anyone up for a intriguing, adventurous journey from Pondicherry, and through the middle of the Pacific.