Life of Pi


Moby Dick was the first book I chose and read in my new spiritual journey, but I have decided to talk first about a book I read just a few years ago, long after Professor Ridd was gone. I think it sets the stage well for what I want to do. I will get to Moby Dick soon. I promise.


The first book I want to talk about on this religious quest was written after Ridd died. The book is Life of Pi by Yann Martel and it won the Man Booker Prize. This was a book like no other. It is a marvellous book and a pretty good movie was made of it.

The books starts off in Canada where we meet a young writer Pi Patel. It is an odd name.  His real name was Piscine Molitor Patel. He was named after a swimming pool in France. In Canada he got in trouble with his name. As so often, kids tend to twist names to tease their peers. For example, when I was young my name, in German, was Hans Erich.  My mother had a rule. When she called me I had to come home. If I said I did not hear her, she refused to accept that excuse. If I did not hear her, I was too far away. If I heard her and did not come home, I was disobedient. Also bad. This was a lose/lose situation. Either way I was in trouble. But my mother had a very loud voice. I could hear her from a great distance away. Unfortunately, so could my friends.  They twisted my second name into Earache. I was called that for a few years and no doubt suffered extreme psychological damage. I hated that name. Mainly because my friends  teased me unmercifully.


It was the same with Piscine Molitor Patel. His friends twisted that into ‘Pissing Patel.’  That was not cool. So, one day, he told everyone to call him Pi for short. It was a name based on the symbol Pi. He adopted the symbol (the Greek letter, π) That was more like it. It was a very cool name.


In a way that was his start on a religious journey. A religious quest I would call it. The family lived in India the home where many important religions were born. India is probably the most religious country in the world. It is saturated with religion. No doubt more religious quests have begun or ended in India than any other country in the world.

Pi was raised as Hindu in his family. That was because his family was Hindu. Parents tend to do that. Just like I was raised a Christian. Inevitably, most children enter into a religion because they have been inculcated to do so by their parents. That happens in all religions

Yet at age 12, Pi was introduced to Christianity. Sort of like Christ as a young boy became a Christian (so to speak) at the age of 12.

Later Pi was also introduced to Islam. Now he knew 3 religions. What was he to do? He did something very interesting. He decided all he wanted to do was “love God.” That was when his real religious quest began in earnest. How could he do that with 3 different religions? Well, Pi found a way.

Pi’s  mother did not have strong religious views. She thought that was all right. His father was more interested in money than he was interested in religion. He tried to persuade Pi to become a secular humanist. A rationalist one might call it.


Pi’s family owned a private zoo. What an exotic family. The zoo had a Bengal tiger that was called Richard Parker. He became a major character in the book. When Pi was 16 years old his father decided to move his family to Canada together with his animals. They were a major asset. They booked passage on a Japanese freighter, but during a storm the ship foundered and sank. As the ship sank, Pi was tossed into a lifeboat. His family drowned. But he was joined by others. A zebra soon joined Pi in the boat and later an orangutan. A spotted hyena also was discovered on board and it killed the zebra.  Later it killed the orangutan. joined them.  Richard Parker the Bengal tiger emerges from under a tarpaulin and then things got really interesting. As you might imagine.

How could such a strange menagerie of critters together with 3 different religions manage of this strange quest to love God?

I hope your curiosity is piqued. I will tell you more on the next post.

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