“May Richard Parker Never Forget Your Name.”
These are the words that Yann Martel penned to me in the front cover of my copy of Life of Pi when I had the privilege (okay, maybe I do sound like one of my ESL students when I write) of meeting him at my High School. The inscription came about when Martel asked me how to spell my name and I told him the answer and then joked with him and my friends that it was the only real way to spell my name; that the others were just weird. If I recall correctly, Martel agreed.
I confess that I do not remember much of the content of the book (I hear you scoffing because I tend to remember everything) but I do remember that I enjoyed it immensely. And that there was a carnivorous island. This I will never forget. Our biology teacher, okay, HER name escapes me (she wasn’t my teacher, she was the teacher everyone else had that showed the video of emotional plants), raised her hand, explained who she was and then asked why he had chosen to write about a carnivorous island, which was against the principles of biology. Martel simply answered that he was pushing the boundaries of the reader’s belief. So far he had spun for us an unbelievable tale, and if we believed that tale, would we also believe this island? For, as the movie reminds us (you’d all guessed I had recently seen the movie, right?) this is a story that will make us believe in God.
My co-worker also enjoyed the book and I was talking about Martel and how I’d had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A with him. My co-worker asked if Martel had really believed that a belief in Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism could co-exist and be truthful at the same time. My co-worker, who is quite devout, added, “because it really can’t.” Of course, because I only had the foggiest recollections of the book (there is a tiger and a boy and they are in the boat, and Richard Parker was never to forget my name), I just nodded, mumbled an agreement and changed the topic. But, if you know me at all, his comment niggled and I just couldn’t let it go. It hung in the back of my mind and I pondered it. So when I watched the movie I watched with that question in mind. For Pi promises us, he has a story that will make us believe in God.
Sidenote: As a movie I think that it fails to make people believe in the Divine. It does make comments about faith though, which, I suppose is only what the book aims to do: to question our nature of belief.
Going back to the Islam/Christianity/Hinduism conundrum I think that IT DOES work from a Hinduism perspective. Now, I am about to make some broad statements about religion that don’t necessary hold true for all sects and denominations to try to make my point. So don’t take it as Gospel truth.
As a sidenote: Hinduism is, at its core, monotheistic (I had a particularly LOVELY Indian Philosophy instructor hammer this point home). This does not mean, of course, that all Hindus consider this true and from the outsider’s perspective Hinduism is very polytheistic. After all there’s Vishnu, and Durga, and Ganesha, and so many others who interact with the world continually.
So, within the Hinduism framework we have a rich tradition of avatars (a manifestation of a deity in bodily form on earth). There is Vishnu who comes again and again in various form including Rama and Krishna. So then, with the introduction of Christianity to India Hindus asked the question who is this Jesus Christ, Son of God? Belief in Christ, God made flesh, was very easy for Hindus to understand, when first to Christ, because the idea of God being sent to Earth to save humanity was nothing new to them. So Christ is easily accepted to Hindus because he is just one aspect of God, he shows us an aspect of Brahma, the ultimate reality, the Absolute. For it is unity with Brahma, that Hindus can escape the cycle of Samsāra and be one with the Divine.
So, to get backed to the question that niggled. I have no idea if Martel actually believes that the three religions lead to the same divine truth. However, I believe that within a Hindu framework practicing all three religions is perfectly acceptable. Pi, is initially introduced to Hinduism first. His father is an atheist but his mother is devout. So, it works for Pi because he is born into a culture that is so deeply intertwined with faith.
Now, I understand that for the Muslim or Christian that this type of faith is not possible. To believe in another religion or god is to worship idols. So, I get why the message of the novel fundamentally bothered my co-worker. Yet if you approached the book from a universal salvation standpoint I think that the book does not present a crisis of faith. For, if Hinduism, at its core, is fundamentally monotheistic, then the three religions have a basic fundamental belief – one God. It is a spring board for inter-faith dialogue at the very least.
However, the book doesn’t try to make a comment on any one religion. It is a comment on faith, in general. Psalm 42:1 says, “as a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” For faith is a yearning to understand God. Pi longs to see God, for to see God is to understand God, and God has remained elusive to Pi. Pi loves storms for in the lightening and the thunder he senses a physical manifestation of God’s presence. However, God remains hidden from Pi and it is only after losing faith that Pi gains faith. By finding the tooth in the plant he believes that God has saved him from certain death. That God still has plans for Pi.
I’m not sure I had a point in all that; more wrestling with the question that niggled.
Now, some thoughts on the movie: 1) The movie is GORGEOUS 2)You should watch it. Now, having said that you should watch it, I must add that it is a slow burn of a movie but much more entertaining than The Fountain. Now that you have been warned you cannot complain if you find it unenjoyable. Also, you should see it in a cinema. It’s a theatrical experience type of movie. Also, I suggest 3D. I saw it in 2D but I imagine that 3D is better. Also, the movie is a bit of an acid trip, kinda like The Fountain. The movie is also a romanticised India. It is clean, and pure, and vibrant, and BEAUTIFUL. It is orientalism at its finest, which I was okay with because the movie is not about India itself. And who doesn’t like a romanticised India, really?
Now, to wrap this up and bring it full circle.: “May Richard Parker Never Forget Your Name.” The film/book is also about memory. Well, maybe not memory per se, but an interpretation of events. After all, Pi gives us two versions of the story of his life on the raft: one with a tiger and one without. We, the reader/viewer are left to decide which is true. Like faith, believing in something that cannot be proved.
Memory is important to me. I confess I do not remember the book (however the movie seemed to be a faithful adaptation). I remember clearly the bio teacher asking the carnivorous island question. I also remember clearly studying in the rape wing, an affectionate name I assure you, with nihilistic2. Okay, to be honest, we were probably not studying, we were chatting. My university life was full of chatting in the rape wing. Anyhow, back when I followed sounis with youthful exuberance (but only as a lurker) a post came up and somewhere in the comments someone mentioned Yann Martel. My friend and I were discussing that particular post and comment in general and how people liked Life of Pi for its plot twist. Then a few minutes later we packed our bags and descended the stairs and passed Yann Martel going up and as we were walking down. I just pointed up and looked at my friend and she said, “Yep. Best timing ever.” I’m never going to forget that moment because the coincidence of talking about Yann Martel and then actually seeing him will be ever fixed in my memory.
Memory has always been one of those strange things for me. I like to think I have a pretty good memory (doesn’t everyone?). However, in the past, this sometimes caused others undo stress. People have disliked that I seem to have a long memory. They dislike that I can remember things that they can’t. Or feel that I will hold their past actions against them for all eternity. Or something. There are many things that I wish that I could actually remember. I often do not remember first encounters of really good friends in the initial stages of our friendship. These are things I wish I could remember more clearly.
Now, I have never been particular good about remembering book plots. I just remember how I felt after I read the books. Well, except the Queen’s Thief series. I remember those quite well, because they are one of the few series that I reread my favourite parts from. I rarely reread books. Some people have an AMAZING detail for the plot and events and characters in every book that they have ever read. I am not sure if I am envious of this ability or not.
Ugh, it’s 12:30am and I have to up for work in a few short hours so I am going to end this blog post here. This really is a long rambling post about multiple things that is vaguely connected by Life of Pi. I suppose, to sum it all up, for me personally the book/movie isn’t really about faith, it is about memory. And my feelings about memory and how it relates to others, well, it niggles.
ps-so late. I'm sorry if it's hard to read. I have no time to reread for clarity or content. Feel free to disregard my rambling. Sometimes, (rarely) I just need to get thoughts down.
edit: I think I just needed to get it out of my head. Hopefully now I can sleep soundly.