In a hot summer vacation, about two decades ago, the following line was a conversation starter:
“So, have you seen Jurassic Park?”
Cut to 2012 and the conversation starter has become:
“So, I hope you’ve seen Life of Pi?”
I’m making a bold assumption that most readers of this blog would have already seen the film by now - and hopefully made a scramble to get yourselves a copy of the book - and are prepared for what I’m about to share with you. Plenty of spoilers ahead.
But before that, I must tell you why this one’s a significant book for me, personally. (No, not because it made me believe in God!)
Life of Pi first caught my attention thanks to a small but glowing review in a magazine for teens, JAM (edited by now-bestselling author Rashmi Bansal) almost eight years ago. Those were the days when I was still hooked to my Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews and hadn’t quite graduated to reading novels. However, the premise of this book, explained in the plot summary on the back-cover really caught my attention (I still believe it is THE best plot summary ever written) and I eventually bought the book.
The rest, as they say, is history. I didn’t just love the book, I became its evangelist, almost adamant about getting my friends to read it. I lent it to them without thinking twice whether they would return it or not. Most of my friends were equally bowled over by Martel’s work and from then on, I came to be known as someone with a very good taste in books. (What to do. I was just lucky!)
But frankly speaking, Life of Pi, became the turning point of my reading life. Prior to it, Booker Prize winning books held no attraction for me, but Yann Martel’s story indeed seemed different from the rest. It was unique, ambitious and most importantly, it made me believe in the power of great story-telling, satiating me with a sense of awesomeness from page to page, without the burden of language. The plot is universal and every man on this planet will want to know how Pi Patel survives for so many days on a lifeboat with a 250-pound Royal Bengal Tiger, without getting eaten up.
Revisiting this book, in it’s brand new edition, published by Canon Gate, brought back many memories. I was 18 when I read the book for the first time. Large parts of the book were meditative - about God, religion, humanity and faith. These very themes, which didn’t go down with my rebellious 18-year old self then, went down very well with the 26-year old me today who is coming to terms with adulthood and responsibilities.
When I’d picked up the book for the first time, I was expecting (not hoping) for a Rudyard Kipling-ish story where Richard Parker, the hyena, zebra and the orangutan suddenly start spouting words and end up making great conversation in the company of Pi Patel, a modern-day Mowgli, but thankfully it did not turn out that way. It’s a wonderful, allegorical tale of survival in the wild waters of the Pacific, and despite involving a cast of just two main characters - at no point did I find it boring. Even in the second reading, my hands got clammy at all the right places - the sinking of the ship, the part when the hyena bites into the zebra, the unbelievable story of the island full of meerkats, and Pi’s eventual arrival on the shores of Mexico…
Over the past few weeks, I’ve often been asked by my movie buff friends, whether they should read the book and then watch the film, or do it vice versa - and I’ve always advised them to opt for the former.
Viewers of the film will certainly find the 3D and CGI unlike anything they’ve seen before and Richard Parker’s roar will long outstay the duration of the film, but to really GET WHAT MARTEL IS TRYING TO SAY, one HAS to read the book.
For example, the following portions, where Pi reminisces about Richard Parker’s unceremonious departure after spending 220-odd days at sea with him, acquire new meaning upon revisiting the book, instantly choking me with tears:
“I’ve never forgotten him. Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. I still cannot understand how he could abandon me so unceremoniously, without any sort of goodbye, without looking back even once. That pain is like an axe that chops at my heart.”
and perhaps the best one,
“What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example - I wonder - could you tell my jumbled story in exactly one hundred chapters, not one more, not one less? I’ll tell you, that’s one thing I have about my nickname, the way the number runs on forever. 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. That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I’d had one last look at him in the lifeboat, that I’d provoked him a little, so that I was on his mind. I wish I had said to him then - yes, I know, to a tiger, but still - I wish I had said, “Richard Parker, it’s over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express I couldn’t have done it without you. I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And now go where you must. You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life; now you will know the free confinement of a jungle. I wish you all the best with it. Watch out for Man. He is not your friend. But I hope you will remember me as a friend. I will never forget you , that is certain. You will always be with me, in my heart. What is that hiss? Ah, our boat has touched sand. So farewell, Richard Parker, farewell. God be with you.”
Life of Pi, is then, without doubt, one of the greatest stories ever told. And going by how Booker Prize winning titles are received in our country, this one’s perhaps the most mainstream in its language and theme. This is definitely a book that you must have in your collection - not just for yourself, but for generations to come.
(Life of Pi is available on uRead.com for Rs 299 only. Click here to buy now. Free shipping, cash-on-delivery available in India.
A brand new film tie-in collector’s edition is available for Pre-order. Click here for details and be amongst the first ones to receive a copy. Rs 419 only. Free shipping, cash-on-delivery available in India.)