I have an interest in quite a wide variety of things, so I always hunt for recommendations- from friends, media, reviews. And some times I get a recommendation out of blue. Many times it works and sometimes not.
Some weeks back I happened to visit a blog in which the blogger wrote a post on feeding her dog. She wanted to know what was the natural food that was to be given. I replied it does not matter because domestication of dog is not a natural process. Hunting is what the natural mode of life sustaining to dog.
Her reply was that, she took great care of dog, it was comfortable in her home and never wanted to go away. The logic sounds solid, but my doubt was, whether another option is given to dog,? Did it knew it can be free and hunt like his other cousins living in forest? And I mentioned the Jack London's novel Call of the wild, that chronicles the transformation of a dog to a wild hound when it gets a chance to come out of its comfortable human company.
May be she was a bit irritated, and closed the matter commenting that she believed dogs, and other animals of course, are better protected with humans and they do not have to suffer for food like when in a jungle and she got her opinion from reading Life of Pi, a novel by Yann Martel.
Now when came across this novel, I remembered this incident and decided to read it. And I am glad I did it. It is a wonderful piece of fiction, kind of Robinson Crusoe meets Panchatantra tales.
Yann Martel is a Spanish writer, who came to India, to sustain himself as it is cheap here and also to get some inspiration, to write a good novel. He found it in Pondicherry, a former french colony, now a union territory surrounded by Tamil Nadu state.
Pi, or Piscine Molitor Patel is a sixteen year old boy, the son of a zoo keeper. Political turmoil in the country makes the family decide to sell the animals and settle in Canada. On the way to Canada, the ship in which they travels, sinks. All family is killed except Pi, who escapes on a life boat along with an oddly named Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker! Pi stays in the boat and survives the six month journey with the help of lessons learned about animal behavior in his zoo. No one believes his story when he reaches back to civilization.
The novel falls flat in the first couple of chapters. The obsession of Pi with all three religoins of the subcontinent reminded me of that scene in Manmohan Desai's epic masala movie Amar, Akbar, Anthony were all three siblings belonging to different religions, unknowingly donates blood to their long lost mother. (The scene shows three of them lying on bed and a tube circulates blood from all three simultaneously into the arteries of the old lady!) The balancing acts gets mushy. Another turn off was the long passages where author tries to justify zoos. Can you imagine Moby Dick starting with Ishmael defending whale hunting?
But once the boat sinks, the story starts floating. The suspense builds up, narrative becomes tight and you can feel the saltiness and heat in the middle of Pacific ocean. Richard Parker steals the show with its antics. The battle for superiority between animals is portrayed with much sincerity.
The notable point of the story is the transformation of the boy. A strict vegetarian by birth, he is forced to eat fish and turtles. The remorse that he feels when he kills a fish the first time just disappears moments later. Later it is also revealed that he ate a small portion of human meat too, of another stowaway, with same intentions, whom he meets mid-sea and whom Richard Parker polishes off.
After reading the book I feel that my Blogger friend has misread it. The story shows that man is just a civilized animal, who can turn around to his basic instincts once the need arise. Another point is when Richer Parker exits into a jungle after the journey, without even acknowledging the presence of Pi, his tamer (which is strikingly similar to the way in which Buck, the dog in Call of the wild, exits into wild.. So the initial passages justifying zoo life gets contradictory and may be author included it there for irony. Then it is the master stroke of the book!