Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
FREE STUDY GUIDE FOR LIFE OF PI BY YANN MARTEL
Pi arranges to meet Mr. Kumar the Sufi at the zoo, but he is afraid he will not recognize him because Mr. Kumar is physically indistinct. He rubs his eyes as an excuse for not seeing Mr. Kumar approach. When he hears Mr. Kumar’s voice he greets the Sufi with the traditional Muslim phrase, “Salaam alaykum.” As they leisurely walk through the zoo, Mr. Kumar marvels at every creature, but especially the zebras. Just then, the other Mr. Kumar approaches. Pi gives pieces of carrot to each Mr. Kumar to feed to the zebras. The three enjoy the experience. Mr. Kumar remarks, “Equus burchelli boehmi.” The other Mr. Kumar remarks, “Allahu akbar.” Pi simply says, “It’s very pretty.”
Just as Mr. Kumar the biology teacher’s physical geometry corresponds to his scientism, Mr. Kumar the Sufi’s lack of physical distinction matches his spirituality. In the chapter, Pi does not have to distinguish Mr. Kumar from Mr. Kumar because their words and actions differentiate them. The biology teacher feeds the zebra with a sense of the function of the carrot. The Sufi feeds the zebra with a sense of wonder. The biology teacher’s remark is the scientific name of a Grant’s zebra, separating it from other varieties of zebra. The Sufi’s remark means “God is most Great,” including the zebra as part of the magnificence of God’s work. Pi’s comment is one of perfect contentment because he appreciates the perspectives of both Mr. Kumars.
This scene is a concrete illustration of the coexistence of science and religion motif. Each of the Kumars appreciates the perfection of the animals, with science and religion both having a place. While touring the zoo, the Sufi even quotes a passage from the Qur’an that is not about faith, but about knowledge. “In all this there are messages indeed for a people who use their reason.”
Pi defines “zoomorphism” as an animal perceiving a different animal to be one of its kind, such as the lion tamer being the super-alpha lion. He lists several other examples including a mouse that remains uneaten in the viper enclosure for weeks. Other mice are eaten as expected, but this one seems to have a non-prey relationship with the snakes. Eventually it is eaten by a young viper. Uncharacteristically, Pi anthropomorphizes and suggests that upon swallowing a mouse, a viper would feel regret, taking “an imaginative leap away from the lonely, crude reality of a reptile.”
Pi is once again preparing the reader with information about animal behavior that will come into play later. He refers back to the “measure of madness” (Chapter 10) that motivates animals to buy into deception if it is in their own best interests. A motherless cub will readily accept a surrogate mother rather than face the reality of being motherless, “the absolute worst condition imaginable for any young, warm-blooded life.” This last comment foreshadows Pi’s “measure of madness” yet to come.
The author is looking through old photos with Pi. Numerous pictures capture many parts of Pi’s adult life. There are but four pictures from his childhood, mailed to Canada by Mamaji. Richard Parker is in one of the pictures, but he is oblivious to the camera. There are no pictures of Pi’s parents and Pi laments, “It’s very sad not to remember what your mother looks like.”
The author depicts Pi as a man of deep feeling. Though Pi smiles in his photos, his eyes betray that he has been wounded. The author sees Richard Parker, who has been made reference to before, but the reader does not yet know who Richard Parker is. It is now also apparent that Pi has experienced “the absolute worst condition imaginable” that he referred to in the previous chapter.
Pi’s family sells off the zoo animals, mostly to zoos in America. Pi feels as though he and Ravi are zoo animals being shipped off to Canada. Because of extensive regulations and paperwork, the preparations take over a year. This at least, gives Pi and Ravi time to get used to the idea of moving. Three Americans come to examine the animals. Finally the paperwork is complete.
Pi prepares the reader for a journey. At this point it seems as though it will be a geographic journey, traveling to a new country. Pi is leaving his wondrous zoo life behind. More than adequate preparation has been made. What could go wrong?