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CHAPTER NOTES FOR LIFE OF PI
Pi sings “Happy Birthday” to his mother.
In the midst the of daily utility of survival, Pi does indeed go on loving.
Pi cleans up after Richard Parker’s bowel movements, which like Pi’s have become painful and infrequent due to inadequate diet. But the cleaning is more than zoo keeping to prevent disease. Pi explains that Richard Parker had hidden the feces indicating that the tiger wishes not to offend Pi. Richard Parker sees Pi as dominant. Pi uses the process of cleaning up as an act of “psychological bullying,” rolling the feces in his hand, sniffing it and staring. It is frightening, yet satisfying, for Pi to exert his dominance.
Pi needs to continuously assert himself as the super-alpha male, which is quite an expenditure of energy. He is having success in this, but his health, and Richard Parker’s, is declining.
Pi restricts his own rations of biscuits as the survival supply diminishes. Always hungry, he now eats turtles and all parts of a fish, even the parts he would have previously used only for bait. He compares every morsel to the very best Indian cuisine. His mood changes with the degree of fullness of his stomach. He eats everything.
Pi tries eating Richard Parker’s feces. Having “abandoned the last vestiges of humanness” he catches the emerging ball in a cup and adds some water to it. He puts it into his mouth and finds that it is truly waste with no nutrients. He spits it out and feeds the remainder to the fish.
Pi’s health continues to decline.
Pi considers his wretched foodstuffs a menu of Indian dishes, even Richard Parker’s feces is “like a big ball of gulab jamon” (fried balls of dough and chopped nuts served with sugar syrup). He is in a starvation induced dreamy delirium. His physical and mental states are worsening.
Pi describes the rich variations in the clouds, color, light, and rainfall of the sky. Then he describes the many sounds of the sea. Between the two are the winds, the moons, and all of the nights Pi spends drifting. He is living in an unchanging geometry of circles. The vista around him as far as he can see forms a circle. The sun is a loud, disturbing circle from which he wants to hide. The moon is a silent circle, tauntingly reminding Pi of his solitude. He wonders if there might be another “also trapped by geometry, also struggling with fear, rage, madness, hopelessness, apathy.”
There are opposing feelings associated with every circumstance. The sun is scorching and painful, yet it cures the strips of fish Pi hangs, and powers his solar stills. Night is relief from the blinding heat of day, but it is cold and frightening. When hot and dry he wishes to be wet. When it rains he nearly drowns. When he catches food he must gorge himself before it spoils. The rest of the time he starves. The hardest to cope with are the opposite, yet sometimes simultaneous feelings of boredom and terror. Thoughts of death are the only constants, and happiness comes from tiny, pathetic triumphs like finding a tiny dead fish.
There is irony in a boy named Pi describing circles, and like the mathematical pi, his journey is inexact and endless. He has no way of knowing if is he is getting anywhere or just going in circles. Even his spirit is cycling between hopefulness and despair. His musings about the possibility of another in his predicament foreshadows an actual meeting.
Several species of sharks frequently come near the lifeboat. Their grace and deep colors are a pleasant distraction for Pi. He catches a mako by the base of the tail and the shark leaps into Richard Parker’s end of the boat. The tiger attacks it. Pi watches Richard Parker’s frightening display of power. However, the tiger has no experience with sharks and steps into the mako’s mouth. The shark clamps down on Richard Parker’s paw. Richard Parker roars with such fierceness that Pi collapses. The tiger slashes at the shark with his three free paws. Pi regains himself and retreats to the raft. There is terrible snarling and rocking of the lifeboat. Finally, Richard Parker sits up having defeated the shark. Pi is able to gaff bits of the shark meat for himself. He learns to go for smaller sharks and stabs them through the eyes for a fast kill.
Pi describes the animal battle with a zoological detachedness. He seems to have lost his compassion. Except for being frightened by Richard Parker’s tremendous roar, there is no emotion. Pi even approaches the matter of eating meat and killing sharks in a cold, matter-of-fact way.