Life of Pi: Thoughts and Insights
I just finished reading Life of Pi which took me a while (which I started reading last December - the book was a Christmas gift) due to being dragged on by some parts, by being distracted by either my phone or sleep or just being not in the mood to hold a precious book. But I did it! I finished this epic book!
Life of Pi is a book filled with metaphors and symbolism and aphorisms and what-nots and I barely grasped the true meaning of any of them, but this book did provided me thoughts and insights and wonderings that’s both unnerving and delightful.
╚╦ The brutal truth of self-preservation and the blurring of the line between humanity and animalism. Pi, throughout his journey found his animal side so to speak, he was a fragile, thin and a vegetarian boy who, during his 227 days in the pacific broke this persona and found something more tribal in him. But that’s not the point in this first bullet, it was when he was on the verge of death with the hyena that this idea came to be. He was (before he discovered Richard Parker) with a hyena, an orangutan and a badly hurt zebra at the beginning of his journey in the Pacific. The hyena was Pi’s first encounter with cannibalism on the sea. As hunger finds them all, it was the hyena who first acted on this physiological need - by eating the injured zebra.
Shock, revulsion and anger surged through me. I felt intense hatred for the hyena. I thought of doing something to kill it. But I did nothing. And my outrage was short-lived. I must be honest about that. I didn’t have pity to spare for long for the zebra. When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival. It was sad that it was suffering so much—and being such a big, strapping creature it wasn’t at the end of its ordeal— but there was nothing I could do about it. I felt pity and then I moved on.
This paragraph summarizes it. How nonchalant we could be, how passive we could be when one of our brothers are faced with adversity, thinking that feeling remorse and sadness is enough to be human. Maybe we cannot blame Pi because he was faced with animals and not humans (though these animals are indeed metaphors for human characters as well), which in some form or the other is seen as inferior to humans, but thinking that there’s nothing he could do but feel for the zebra - doesn’t it sound too familiar. Just looking over events and horror plagued upon others to keep ourselves safe, looking over and crying from a safe distance - all too familiar traits of “humans”.
╚╦ We are machines that could be programmed - would get used to any type of routine. As I said on the previous bullet Pi wasn’t born an animal - he was gentle, a vegetarian with three religions, and he believed in life living in all creations. Or to rephrase that, he wasn’t used to being an animal. It’s quite disturbing this one, because it is true. From people succumbing to disgusting lives because they’ll get used to it or already are, letting stronger powers bully them, letting the world waste away, the government torment us, milk us, letting the criminals be because we’re used to having them around; dying in a job you hate because you’ve already gotten used to the routine, to a hateful life, hateful family, to stealing, etc — all of these nonsensical happenings that we let be because we can be programmed to be anything - with the right amount of repetition. Just like trained circus animals.
“You may be astonished that in such a short period of time I could go from weeping over the muffled killing of a flying fish to gleefully bludgeoning to death a dorado. I could explain it by arguing that profiting from a pitiful flying fish’s navigational mistake made me shy and sorrowful, while the excitement of actively capturing a great dorado made me sanguinary and self-assured. But in point of fact the explanation lies elsewhere. It is simple and brutal: a person can get used to anything, even to killing.”
╚╦ Letting ourselves believe we can inflict pain on others because it’s alright. This paragraph may be more about the subject of cannibalism but I saw something else in it. Pi, thinking that the Frenchman was dead anyways, chopped him up to use as bait, and even eaten parts of him. “He’s dead anyways,” “he’s a goner, nothing we can do about it”, “he ain’t got no chance,” “he’s not gonna make it let’s not waste our time” and all other phrases as such…
“I will confess that I caught one of his arms with the gaff and used his flesh as bait. I will further confess that, driven by the extremity of my need and the madness to which it pushed me, I ate some of his flesh. I mean, little pieces, little strips that I meant for the gaff’s hook that, when dried by the sun, looked like ordinary animal flesh. They slipped into my mouth nearly unnoticed. You must understand, my suffering was unremitting and he was already dead. I stopped as soon as I caught a fish.
I pray for his soul every day.”
The book is religious, was about hope, survival and other themes but what struck me was it’s touch on morality. What has become of the definition of being a human, of humanity, of morality, dignity and all the hoorahs. When faced with adversity - up to what extent can we be and do to survive. How do we trigger the animals within us, if not already triggered. We are indeed the most disgusting, most dangerous type of animals for the type of havoc we can inflict on ourselves, each other, animals, nature and the world in itself. Sometimes I wonder why it’s us that have the so called intelligence to think.
╚╦ How people change you, be part of you - and then just leave. This may be one of the more famous and heart-wrenching scenes on the story - Richard Parker leaving Pi without even looking back. Richard Parker who Pi thanks for as being the reason to his survival “companion of my torment, awful, fierce thing that kept me alive, moved forward and disappeared forever from my life.”
“I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so unceremoniously. What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell…it’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse”
How painful could that be that someone who touched your life strongly, changed who you are, was with you through momentous moments in your life just leaves you, without a proper closure or even a goodbye - or even a look back. Just leaves you with marks of what and who they were in your life all over your body, mind and soul…knowing you never were able to say all that you wanted to say, a thank you, a sorry, or an I love you.
╚╦ To see is to believe, or rather we see things the way we see it. By the end of the book this theme was strongly pointed out especially when Pi have reached Mexico. He was arguing with the two Japanese reporters (investigators?) about the reality of his “first story”. That to him it was as real as himself for he witnessed it first-hand, but to those whom he’s just telling the story to, it’s just a grandiose story with no truth at all. It was also how we perceive things, what type of truth we apply to what we see and how we interpret it. It’s about having beliefs, truths as subjective….
“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”
“I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.”
There’s so much more to the book than this and you could interpret it in millions of other ways, but these are themes and thoughts that struck me in some way, made me think (not really learn because these things are supposed to be common knowledge to us, though not noticed or acknowledged). It’s a wonderful adventure, a wonderful story. A beautiful book.