Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The koward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!"
                     oscar wilde , the ballad of reading gaol

When was the last that I thought of you...I know not...but am I the one who goes alone on this path...and should I but care only a little for the souls that follow or those as march ahead?

Mode C is a way of life, perhaps my way of life: C for Cool, C for Cold, C for Chaos, C for Calvin. Ultimately, all of it boils down to the way you look at things. Are they not how they are but just how they appear?? No...and yes...Almost all the seriously critical fundamental concepts of life...aren't they just the bogies under Calvin's bed that he is afraid of? Miss Wormwood, Susie, Mom and Dad, and of course above all, Hobbes...aren't they all merely the means that he uses to attack these bogies?

Reflecting on 'living the Calvin way', I have started to believe that life and our reaction to it can only be explained by a number of Calvin and Hobbes strips combined together. The philosophy, as I like to call it, is to know that you are not alone. It is not just my perspective alone that is going to help me fight my bogies. I will be able to inch towards the Calvin way only when I perceive the other perspectives on my way.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004
A pi in the face of adversity

Piscine of the best swimming pools in Paris

Piscine Molitor Patel...son of the small time zookeeper of Pondicherry Zoo, and one with the most astonishing survival story.

Yann Martel exceeds himself and any other writers of a similar genre as he describes 'The Life of Pi'. The book is a treatise on so many things. It delves into the rationale behind zoos, the psychology of animals, the importance of religion and faith in one's life and above all, the life of a stow-away, the things man can be compelled to do...and so much more that after reading the book, the reader is mentally exhausted because of having to take so much in. Yet, the story doesn't drag, once it has entered its flow. Admittedly, the first fifty-odd pages move slow as we are introduced to the character of Piscine but as soon as the protagonist's nemesis, Richard Parker, comes into being, the complexion of the story changes completely.

Piscine Molitor Patel has been so named because of his father's friend who has this special affection towards swimming pools in general and Piscine Molitor in particular. The way the author builds up the reason for Piscine's name is truly creative and engaging...well, not while he is building it up, but absolutely captivating when the conclusion is reached, actually prompting the reader to go back to the text once again and re-read the build up. Piscine attends the local school where his name is changed to 'Pissing' by the kids and he has to endure many a bad days because of it. Finally, when he changes school, and is asked to give his name in the first class, he boldly walks up to the black board and writes clearly: "My name is Piscine Molitor Patel, also known as Pi. Pi=3.1417". This is how Pi is born and this is how it all starts...The Life of Pi.

Pi's father does not trust Mrs. Gandhi and her iron rule and as soon as the emergency grips the nation, he starts planning to get out of the country and move to Canada with his family. The nail is driven into the coffin when Tamil Nadu Government is taken over by the center and the Patel family decides to leave for Canada by a Japanese cargo ship. The ship also carries many animals of the Pondicherry Zoo, to be sold off in Canada and America. The story, walking at a leisurely pace so far, goes into overdrive as the ship, carrying Pi and his life, sinks, leaving only five survivors. Pi is one of them and the survivors list additionally contains a Zebra, a Hyena, an Orang-Utan and Richard Parker, a Royal Bengal Tiger.

Aboard a lifeboat, the partners in peril sail forth as the ship sinks beyond hope in the middle of the Pacific, with no one to turn light to shine forth. Thereafter, the story is one of trust, faith and extreme resistance to adversity that Pi shows. With the hyena making short work of the Zebra and the Orang-Utan, Pi knows that it is his turn next...nut what he doesn't know is that he also has the company of Richard Parker, the tiger, who not only finishes off the hyena as dessert but is looming as a bigger threat to Pi's survival than the ocean and its vastness.

Elements of animal psychology are explained in detail as Pi decides to tame the tiger with tricks, treats and punishments. It is a game of upmanship, of Alpha and Omega, of the greater predator trying to overwhelm the smaller. Pi sustains...but at what cost! A vegetarian believer is turned to eating raw fish, crabs, worms, human flesh and at a point, even a tiger's feces. Pi and Richard Parker survive...the survival kit on the lifeboat helping Pi to live and let Richard Parker live because a Royal Bengal Tiger is all he has for company...all he has to let his hope live. In the middle of all this adversity, Pi does not lose faith and a firm believer that he is, he keeps praying several times a pass let his mind be free???

Pi and Richard Parker meet many things on the and turtle that turn into their food...another blind stowaway who tries to eat up Pi but is eaten up by Richard Parker...dreams and delusions that refuse to die away...blindness and absolute famine...a carnivorous island that burns and eats up all life forms in the night...

The story concludes as Pi's lifeboat reaches the coast of Mexico. Richard Parker gets off and without as much as even a goodbye, makes his way into the forest. Pi is saved by the Mexican villages and nursed back to life after a 227 days stint on the open sea.

On the negative side, the story does get to be a bit of a drag at times, especially in the opening part where we are introduced to the life of a Zoo and its inmates, about how Pi's faith is nurtured and groomed by people he encountered in his life and who became the shapers of his destiny.

Notwithstanding the above, the book proves to be a good reading not just because it is exciting and thrilling to want to know what happened next in a survival story, but more so because it describes the game of brain vs brawn. The insights into the enterprise of Pi and his immature and risky exploitation of the animal psychology, to try and dominate a tiger are absolutely fascinating. The writing style is good..with most of the story told in first person, the reader is able to identify with the thought process of the protagonist. There are flashes of brillliance in an even otherwise good story...especially in the last part where Pi is trying to convince two Japanese officers, investigating the sinking of the Japanese ship, of his story. The disbelief of the Japanese, their external politeness and internal mistrust, the satirical tone of Pi, the new story that he tells them that is so much similar to the old one and yet so much more believable, and above all, the final report of the Japanese...all make for some very interesting reading.

This book does deserve the Booker Prize (Man Booker Prize now) and I am glad I did not make a mistake when I gifted the book to one of my very dear friends on the basis of its reputation alone.

Posted at 10:27 am by Nitai

August 4, 2004   12:28 PM PDT
Night Shyamalan is planning his next movie based on this story.
August 4, 2004   01:24 PM PDT
That's news to me!!!
However, despite the inherent overall drama that the story holds, I doubt if it has the continuous and pulsating theatrics so essential for a movie.
August 5, 2004   02:56 AM PDT
Amusing to think that what gave birth to this incredible story that some reviewers say fits in the same genre as Rushdie and Garcia-Marquez's "magic realism", was a series of conversations that Yann Martel had with the zoo-keeper at Trivandrum Zoo.
I loved the psychological battle between Pi and Richard Parker!

Another Booker Prize winner that you MUST read is Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient". Watch the movie after that. They're both haunting.
August 5, 2004   06:27 PM PDT
Thanks for the suggestion, Ron and for the link, Prithesh. I have already seen the movie 'English Patient' and will definitely try to read up on the book if and when I get hold of it
August 6, 2004   08:12 PM PDT
wow a very nice review indeed...
August 8, 2004   02:49 PM PDT

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