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LIFE OF PI - BOOK NOTES
Pi gives an account of a meeting he has with Mr. Satish Kumar, his Communist, atheist, favorite, biology teacher. Mr. Kumar is visiting the zoo, delighting in the perfect order of nature. Pi explains why there are goats in the rhino enclosure - they are social animals and need the company. Mr. Kumar discusses the value of scientific explanations for everything that exists and that there is no reason to believe what we cannot sense. He goes on relating the story of his childhood polio and how medicine saved him, not God. Pi has difficulty with Mr. Kumar’s ideas until he learns to accept them as another form of faith. He ends the chapter commenting that atheists do not bother him, agnostics do.
Mr. Kumar is described as having a geometric build. His physical description matches his character. He is logical and scientific. He seeks order in the universe. He has faith in the views of Mendel (father of genetics) and Darwin (natural selection). Pi is able to accept Mr. Kumar’s atheism because although Kumar does not believe in God, he still believes and takes the “leap of faith” that reason leads him to.
Pi accepts atheism, but not agnosticism. Atheists don’t believe in God. Agnostics believe that we do not know for sure whether or not God exists. Pi’s opinion on agnosticism is summed up in the final sentence of the chapter, “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
Pi lists some of the terrible things visitors do to the animals at the zoo leading to the supposition that humans are the most dangerous animals. Pi explains that anthropomorphizing is what makes people lash out at the animals. An animal is an animal. Pi has learned this from both his father and Richard Parker. (The reader does not yet know who Richard Parker is.)
Pi tells of the time his father found it necessary to demonstrate to Pi and Ravi just how dangerous an animal is. Father takes the boys and their mother to the cage of Mahisha, the tiger that has not been fed for three days in order to simulate conditions in the wild. A goat is let into the cage and what happens as the tiger attacks is “enough to scare the living vegetarian daylights” out of Pi. Father continues the lesson with story after story of the strength against humans of every animal they passed. The final stop is at the guinea pigs which Father pronounces “not dangerous.” The boys and their mother ignore Father for the next week.
Another analogy of religion and zoology is used when describing the problems of anthropomorphism, “The obsession with putting ourselves at the centre of everything is the bane not only of theologians but also of zoologists.” This sentence also foreshadows Pi being the actual physical center of everything he sees in Part Two.
There are also more religious references. Pi mentions the story from the Hindu epic the Ramayana about King Ravana kidnapping the goddess Sita. And Mahisha, the tiger’s name, is the name of an evil demon defeated by the goddess Durga.
CHAPTERS 9, 10, 11
Pi shares insight into the art and science of zookeeping. In Chapter 9 he defines the concept of flight distance - the distance an animal wants to keep from an enemy. Flight distance can be diminished by providing food, shelter, and a stable environment. In Chapter 10, Pi gives examples of animals that might want to escape. Full grown animals caught in the wild that don’t adapt, or even zoo-bred animals may in a moment of “madness” seek escape. Pi makes it clear, however, that the animals are escaping from something not to somewhere. Often escaped animals are not found for some time, or even at all. In Chapter 11, Pi tells of a black leopard that survived unnoticed in Switzerland, in the winter, for over two months.
These three chapters detail the behaviors of animals and the connections between humans and animals that will be a fundamental part of the story later. He attributes uncharacteristic animal behaviors to “a measure of madness” that moves all living things toward survival. At the end of Chapter 11, Pi is laughing about some animal that could not be found in the Mexican jungle, but at this point, the reader does not know what he is laughing about. It is a clue that there is more to the story.
The author observes that Pi gets distressed sometimes while telling his story because “Richard Parker still preys on his mind,” but Pi wants to go on. Pi cooks very spicy food each time the author visits and the author, though he foolishly told Pi he likes spicy food, suffers.
This is another teaser to make the reader curious about the rest of the story. It is also more realism to establish credibility.