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Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Life of Pi

Title: Life of Pi.
Author: Yann Martel.
Genre: Fiction, adventure, survival lit, animals, religion, fantasy.
Country: Canada.
Language: English.
Publication Date: September, 2001.
Summary: The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to co-exist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.

My rating: 6.5/10.
My review:


♥ If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.

♥ When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling. My life is like a memento mori painting from European art: there is always a grinning skull at my side to remind me of the folly of human ambition. I mock this skull. I look at it and I say, “You’ve got the wrong fellow. You may not believe in life, but I don’t believe in death. Move on!” The skull snickers and moves ever closer, but that doesn’t surprise me. 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.

♥ I have nothing to say of my working life, only that a tie is a noose, and inverted though it is, it will hang a man nonetheless if he’s not careful.

♥ Don’t we say, “There’s no place like home”? That’s certainly what animals feel. Animals are territorial. That is the key to their minds. Only a familiar territory will allow them to fulfill the two relentless imperatives of the wild: the avoidance of enemies and the getting of food and water. A biologically sound zoo enclosure - whether cage, pit, moated island, corral, terrarium, aviary or aquarium - is just another territory, peculiar only in its size and in its proximity to human territory. That it is so much smaller than what it would be in nature stands to reason. Territories in the wild are large not as a matter of taste but of necessity. In a zoo, we do for animals what we have done for ourselves with houses: we bring together in a small space what in the wild is spread out. Whereas before for us the cave was here, the river over there, the hunting ground a mile that way, the lookout next to it, the berries somewhere else - all of them infested with lions, snakes, ants, leeches and poison ivy - now the river flows through taps at hand’s reach and we can wash next to where we sleep, we can eat where we have cooked, and we can surround the whole with a protective wall and keep it clean and warm. A house is a compressed territory where our basic needs can be fulfilled close by and safely. A sound zoo enclosure is the equivalent for an animal )with the noteworthy absence of a fireplace or the like, present in every human habitation). Finding within it all the places it needs - a lookout, a place for resting, for eating and drinking, for bathing, for grooming, etc. - and finding that there is no need to go hunting, food appearing six days a week, an animal will take possession of its zoo space in the same way it would lay claim to a new space in the wild, exploring it and marking it out in the normal ways of its species, with sprays or urine perhaps. Once this moving-in ritual is done and the animal has settled, it will not feel like a nervous tenant, and even less like a prisoner, but rather like a landholder, and it will behave in the same way within its enclosure as it would in its territory in the wild, including defending it tooth and nail should it be invaded. Such an enclosure is subjectively neither better nor worse for an animal than its condition in the wild; so long as it fulfills the animal’s needs, a territory, natural or constructed, simply is, without judgement, a given, like the spots of a leopard. One might even argue that if an animal could choose with intelligence, it would opt for living in a zoo, since the major difference between a zoo and the wild is the absence of parasites and enemies and the abundance of food in the first, and their respective abundance and scarcity in the second. Think about it yourself. Would you rather be put up at the Ritz with free room service and unlimited access to a doctor or be homeless without a soul to care for you? But animals are incapable of such discernment. Within the limits of their nature, they make do with what they have.

...But I don’t insist. I don’t mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want )and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.

♥ Mr.Kumar was the first avowed atheist I ever met. I discovered this not in the classroom but at the zoo. He was a regular visitor who read the labels and descriptive notices in their entirety and approved of every animal he saw. Each to him was a triumph of logic and mechanics, and nature as a whole was an exceptionally fine illustration of science. To his ears, when an animal felt the urge to mate, it said “Gregor Mendel”, recalling the father of genetics, and when it was time to show its mettle, “Charles Darwin”, the father of natural selection, and what we took to be bleating, grunting, hissing, snorting, growling, howling, chirping and screeching were but the thick accents of foreigners. When Mr.Kumar visited the zoo, it was to take the pulse of the universe, and his stethoscopic mind always confirmed to him that everything was in order, that everything was order. He left the zoo feeling scientifically refreshed.

♥ He spoke again. “Some people say God died during the Partition in 1947. He may have died in 1971 during the war. Or he may have died yesterday here in Pondicherry in an orphanage. That’s what some people say, Pi. When I was your age, I lived in bed, racked with polio. I asked myself every day, ‘Where is God? Where is God? Where is God?’ God never came. It wasn’t God who saved me - it was medicine. Reason is my prophet and it tells me that as a watch stops, so we die. It’s the end. If the watch doesn’t work properly, it must be fixed here and now by us. One day we will take hold of the means of production and there will be justice on earth.”

This was all a bit much for me. The tone was right - loving and brave - but the details seemed bleak. I said nothing. It wasn’t for fear of angering Mr.Kumar. I was more afraid that in a few words thrown out he might destroy something that I loved. What if his words had the effect of polio on me? What a terrible disease that must be if it could kill God in a man.

♥ It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as legs of reason will carry them - and then they leap.

I’ll be honest about it. It is no atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

♥ Just beyond the ticket booth Father had painted on a wall in bright red letters the question: DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE ZOO? An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so many eager, curious hands that pulled at the curtain that we had to replace it regularly. Behind it was a mirror.

But I learned at my expense that Father believed there was another animal even more dangerous than us, and one that was extremely common, too, found on every continent, in every habitat: the redoubtable species Animalus anthropomorphicus, the animal as seen through human eyes. We’ve all met one, perhaps even owned one. It is an animal that is “cute”, “friendly”, “loving”, “devoted”, “merry”, “understanding”. These animals lie in ambush in every toy store and children’s zoo. Countless stories are told of them. They are the pendants of those “vicious”, “bloodthirsty”, “depraved” animals that inflame the ire of the maniacs I have just mentioned, who vent their spite on them with walking sticks and umbrellas. In both cases we look at an animal and see a mirror. The obsession with putting ourselves at the centre of everything is the bane not only of theologians but also of zoologists.

♥ Though she has lived in Toronto for over thirty years, her French-speaking mind still slips on occasion on the understanding of English sounds. And so, when she first heard of Hare Krishnas, she didn’t hear right. She heard “Hairless Christians”, and that is what they were to her for many years. When I corrected her, I told her that in fact she was not so wrong that Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.

♥ And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it’s God’s Son who pays the price? I tried to imagine Father saying to me, “Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas. Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate the camel. The week before it was painted storks and grey herons. And who’s to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti? The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them.”

“Yes, Father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up.”

“Hallelujah, my son.”

“Hallelujah, Father.”

♥ That a god should put up with adversity, I could understand. The gods of Hinduism face their fair share of thieves, bullies, kidnappers and usurpers. What is the Ramayana but the account of one long, bad day for Rama? Adversity, yes. Reversals of fortune, yes. Treachery, yes. But humiliation? Death? I couldn’t imagine Lord Krishna consenting to be stripped naked, whipped, mocked, dragged through the streets and, to top it off, crucified - and at the hands of mere humans, to boot. I’d never heard of a Hindu god dying. Brahman Revealed did not go for death. Devils and monsters did, as did mortals, by the thousands and millions - that’s what they were there for. Matter, too, fell away. But divinity should not be blighted by death. It’s wrong. The world soul cannot die, even in one contained part of it. It was wrong of this Christian God to let His avatar die. That is tantamount to letting a part of Himself die. Fore if the Son is to die, it cannot be fake. If God on the Cross is God shamming a human tragedy, it turns the Passion of Christ into the Farce of Christ. The death of the Son must be real. Father Martin assured me that it was. But once a dead God, always a dead God, even resurrected. The Son must have the taste of death forever in His mouth. The Trinity must be tainted by it; there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God the Father. The horror must be real. Why would God wish that upon Himself? Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect?

...Even Rama, that most human of avatars, who had to be reminded of his divinity when he grew long-faced over the struggle to get Sita, his wife, back from Ravana, evil king of Lanka, was no slouch. No spindly cross would have kept him down. When push came to shove, he transcended him limited human frame with strength no man could have and weapons no man could handle.

That is God as God should ne. With shine and power and might. Such as can rescue and save and put down evil.

This Son, on the other hand, who goes hungry, who suffers from thirst, who gets tired, who is sad, who is anxious, who is heckled and harassed, who has to put up with followers who don’t get it and opponents who don’t respect Him - what kind of a god is that? It’s a god on too human a scale, that’s what. There are miracles, yes, mostly of a medical nature, a few to satisfy hungry stomachs; at best a storm is tempered, water is briefly walked upon. If that is magic, it is minor magic, on the order of card tricks. Any Hindu god can do a hundred times better. This Son is a god who spent most of His time telling stories, talking. This Son is a god who walked, a pedestrian god = and in a hot place, at that - with a stride like any human stride, the sandal reaching just above the rocks along the way; and when He splurged on transportation, it was a regular donkey. This Son is a god who died in three hours, with moans, gasps and laments. What kind of a god is that? What is there to inspire in this Son?

♥ There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think “Business as usual.” But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

These people fail to realize it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defence, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.

♥ In the trade, dogs are sometimes used as foster mothers for lion cubs. Though the cubs grow to become larger than their caregiver, and much more dangerous, they never give their mother trouble and she never loses her placid behaviour or her sense of authority over her litter. Signs have to be put up to explain to the public that the dog is not live food left for the lions (just as we had to put up a sign pointing out that rhinoceros are herbivores and do not eat goats).

What could be the explanation for zoomorphism? Can’t a rhinoceros distinguish big from small, tough hide from soft fur? Isn’t it plain to a dolphin what a dolphin is like? I believe the answer lies in something I mentioned earlier, that measure of madness that moves life in strange but saving ways. The golden agouti, like the rhinoceros, was in need of companionship. The circus lions don’t care to know that their leader is a weakling human; the fiction guarantees their social well-being and staves off violent anarchy. As for the lion cubs, they would positively keel over with fright if they knew their mother was a dog, for that would mean they were motherless, the absolute worst condition imaginable for any young, warm-blooded life. I’m sure even the adult viper, as it swallowed the mouse, must have felt somewhere in its undeveloped mind a twinge of regret, a feeling that something greater was just missed, an imaginative leap away from the lonely, crude reality of a reptile.

♥ * 1 survival manual
* 1 compass
* 1 notebook with 98 lined pages
* 1 boy with a complete set of light clothing nit for one lost shoe
* 1 spotted hyena
* 1 Bengal tiger
* 1 lifeboat
* 1 ocean
* 1 God

♥ I must say a word about fear. It’s life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.

Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead like an opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing. Your heart strains too hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear.

Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you’ve defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.

The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.

♥ The stars shone with such fierce, contained brilliance that it seemed absurd to call the night dark. The sea lay quietly, bathed in a shy, light-footed light, a dancing play of black and silver that extended without limits all about me. The volume of things was confounding - the volume of air above me, the volume of water around and beneath me. I was half-moved, half-terrified. I felt like the sage Markandeya, who fell out of Vishnu’s mouth while Vishnu was sleeping and so beheld the entire universe, everything that there is. Before the sage could die of fright, Vishnu awoke and took him back into his mouth. For the first time I noticed - as I would notice repeatedly during my ordeal, between one throe of agony and the next - that my suffering was taking place in a grand setting. I saw my suffering for what it was, finite and insignificant, and I was still. My suffering did not fit anywhere, I realized. And I could accept this. It was all right. (It was daylight that brought my protest: “No! No! No! My suffering does matter. I want to live! I can’t help but mix my life with that of the universe. Life is a peephole, a single entry onto a vastness - how can I not dwell on this brief, cramped view I have of things? This peephole is all I’ve got!”)
Tags: 1st-person narrative, 2000s, 21st century - fiction, adventure, animals (fiction), canadian - fiction, fantasy, fiction, indian in fiction, religion (fiction), religion - christianity (fiction), religion - hinduism (fiction), religion - islam (fiction), survival fiction
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