Believing in the Life of Pi


So incredible is the story of Pi that also rightly puts in question the subject of “believe”. Life of Pi written by Yann Martel is the story of a boy named Pi (actually Piscine Molitor Patel) who found himself stranded in the ocean 1 day with a tiger on board. And that is up to you to believe.

What do you believe in? That is the same kind of question as “how are you?” – the kind where people ask and don’t wait to hear the answer or expect to hear the usual answer. Early part in the book, Pi explored religion and took in all beliefs. He is a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim and he believes what Ghandi said, “All religions are true” and he “just wants to love God”. Despite the efforts of the different religious leaders, Pi practiced all 3 religious practices. And that was unbelievable for some people, including his parents.

So what does it matter what a person believes in? I don’t know if it matter anymore than what a person chooses to wear or eat. But there’s a lot of hoo-ha today about what we believe in. If I believe in capitalism, I’m a republican and am damned for not believing in social rights. If I believe in Jesus, I’m a Christian and damned for not believing in same sex marriage. Who says a republican can’t believe in social protection and a Christian can’t believe in the rights for the union of people of the same sex. And why can’t Pi be a Christian, a Muslim and a Hindu? And by the way, what does it matter if he’s not going to bother anyone with his beliefs? People are sentimental to titles.

I can’t believe. That is same response as I don’t care – the kind that people say because it hasn’t happened to them or haven’t thought through what another person has said. It has the same spirit of dismissal. Later in the book, Pi was described as travelling for 227 days in the sea in a lifeboat with a tiger. When he was questioned on the plausibility of the story, he told another story without the animals and asked what people would prefer.

So what does it matter if you believe or not. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Things happen, war happens, famine happens, slavery happens, life happens, death happens. So many times, I’ve also heard from people who asked, “I can’t believe you: can’t find a job, can’t find a person to be with, etc…”. So what if Pi did travel for 227 days with a tiger or a man? That’s his story to tell if he’s not harming someone or profiting from lies. I can believe that if I were to be travelling in a lifeboat with no hope of being found for nearly a year, a tiger is no longer a tiger, a fish is no longer a fish and the usual sense of things would be very different.

Thank goodness “Life of Pi” is released as a work of fiction. I can choose to believe in the plausibility of the story or not. No one is harm or taken advantage of because of their beliefs and we can all relax and just focus on the story of survival. That almost seemed like a paradox in itself.

I don’t know how other people live. Maybe we all have a Richard Parker in our lives. Something, someone we have to tame and conquer. Maybe believing is its existence is the first step in finding the courage to face it. For 3 days, Pi stayed on top of the tarpaulin and thought the tiger wasn’t on the boat with him. If we close our eyes, we can’t see suffering and life is beautiful. Maybe that’s a good way of survival too for some people. I don’t know.

But then I don’t believe in believing any more. There’s no point in whether I believe in something or not. It doesn’t make it go away if it’s there and it doesn’t stay if it’s not there. But I accept that other people believe in what they believe. If they believe in ghosts, I ask why and hold their hand in the dark. If they believe in animal suffering, I’ll make them a good vegetarian meal. If Pi said he travelled with a tiger in a lifeboat for 227 days, I’ll give him a pat in the back for surviving.

I guess what I’m saying is that if everyone has a Richard Parker in their lives, it really doesn’t matter if we believe it or not. What matters is what we do about it, for ourselves and for others. Suffering is such a relative word, a mouse is a tiger to some and a tiger is a mouse to others. What does it matter if it is really a mouse or a tiger if we can try to walk in their shoes and try to understand? And if we can help, why don’t we? Because, who knows, one day, we are Pi with a Richard Parker on a lifeboat with miles of ocean before us. And it would really help if we don’t meet someone lost in the sea trying to pick out bones.

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