Yann Martel’s incredible illustration of a young man who survived a devastating shipwreck, only to live on a boat for a number of months along with a Bengal Tiger named ‘Richard Parker’ has been coined as a modern-day classic.
The novel starts off by giving an introduction to the background of Pi, starting from when he was a child and throughout his growing up period over the years. The story builds Pi’s character development in order to have the right introduction for the lead character in the story. In the story, Pi’s family, who lives in India is shown to have a zoo that they run as their hometown zoo. Pi’s father is shown to be deeply empathetical towards nature and the animals that inhabit the world around us. His father acknowledges the wildness that the animals possess that collaborates with their raw animalistic nature. Although Pi’s father is in charge of protecting the animals, he also understands that the animals are not supposed to be compared to or treated as the humans are. From a very early age, Pi’s father observed that Pi was always naïve and had a soft spot for the Bengal Tigers in their captivity which might have meant Pi’s life was in danger. To make his children understand how deadly the tiger actually is, Pi’s father makes them watch the animal kill and devour a goat.
In the story, Pi is seen to have multiple shifts from religion to religion during the formative years of his life. Pi shifts from Hinduism to Catholicism, then again shifts from Catholicism to Islam; which is not taken well by the religious scholars around. Pi’s multiple shifts in religion are condemned by the leaders of those religions in his area who knew him, but fortunately, Pi’s family started to accept the fact that Pi was slowly beginning to find his way in life. Thus, the main character in the story started practising and living as a true follower of each and every religious path all his life.
As the story gradually progresses, Pi’s family makes the decision to sell all the animals and give up the zoo, as they migrate to Canada in search of a better life. They start their journey on the ‘Tsimtsum’ which sails across the ocean, towards Canada. During one part of the journey, the cargo ship comes across a severe storm, with the potential of sinking the whole ship, but Pi is fascinated to see and experience the storm which they were in the middle of. As Pi goes to the deck to see the vivid scenario, he is thrown, in a sense, to a lifeboat by the crew of the ship to save his life, as Pi loses his consciousness in the hazardous storm. The next morning, Pi wakes up to an unexpected situation. He wakes up beside an orangutan called Orange Juice, a zebra which was severely wounded, along with a deadly hyena. But, they were not the only ones aside from Pi himself. Richard Parker, the Bengal Tiger was hiding underneath the canvas of the lifeboat, who is the tiger that Pi has always had a soft corner for. The scenes following the unveiling of the survivors were as expected. The zebra is wounded further and eventually eaten by the hyena, who also goes for the orangutan, who put up a pretty good fight, although he could not fight off the hyena. But, at the very end, the hyena fell short to Richard Parker, who marked his presence by devouring the ferocious hyena. Eventually, only the two last survivors, Richard Parker and Pi remain on the lifeboat.
Understanding his current situation, Pi decides to figure out the ways and methods as to how he will survive out in the Pacific Ocean. Merely survival out in the sea is not enough, Pi has to keep himself alive from being eaten by the tiger. Pi’s efforts towards survival out in the ocean and Richard Parker’s involvement in the whole journey is portrayed in the rest of the novel. Pi finds out very soon that he might die of thirst rather than being hungry or even being eaten by the tiger. Thus, he starts searching for water to keep him hydrated. In the meantime, Pi finds out a storage of water, biscuits, water purifiers and a handbook for survival in the lifeboat. With the items he got from the lifeboat, Pi builds another lifeboat with the help of lifejackets and oars and attaches the newly made boat with his lifeboat. Pi’s plan was to build the second lifeboat to stay safe from both the sharks in the ocean and Richard Parker. After considering multiple options for survival, he comes to a conclusion that there is no other way other than taming the tiger. Pi decides to blow the whistle that he found in the initial lifeboat and keeps on rocking the boat in which the tiger is present to make him seasick so that he can be subdued although he cannot be fully tamed and kept in control.
During his survival in the middle of nowhere, Pi suffers from temporary blindness and loses the stability of his mind for a certain time. During that time, Pi actually goes on to have a conversation with Richard Parker and fantasizes about all the different kinds of food they want to have if they ever have the opportunity again. As Pi thinks about various kinds of vegetables to eat, Richard Parker fixates on dishes incorporated with meat. As Pi is aggravated by Richard’s intentions on devouring meat, he remembers that it was just Richard Parker’s preference. Meanwhile, another man appears in a separate lifeboat. This castaway has a French accent, and Pi lets him inside his boat thinking of the man as a potential companion. But, the man proves to be mentally unstable as he attacks Pi with the intention of devouring him. As he attacks Pi saying that he wants to eat him, Richard Parker jumps on the attacker and devours him instead.
The two survivors eventually stumble across an island filled with trees and greenery, including roots, branches and most importantly, fresh water. Pi thinks that he has finally come across potential food and water but makes a discovery which shakes him to the core of his bones. As he peels back the cover of a certain fruit, he finds a human tooth embedded inside the fruit. He eventually finds out that the whole island is actually a carnivorous island which feeds on anything and everything which is alive. Pi along with Richard Parker make their way back to their lifeboat as soon as they can.
There’s no telling how many days pass following these experiences by both Pi and Richard Parker, as days turn into weeks, and slowly even Pi loses count, as he is desperate to survive this potentially impossible situation that God has put him in. He even questions the existence of God, as he recalls the days when he used to be a devoted follower of multiple religions. Richard Parker is kept subdued as Pi learns to get better at taming the previously thought untamable wildlife that might devour him at any moment if he feels like it. Pi along with Richard Parker pass every minute of their days in their lifeboats as they had become the only source of protection from the sharks in the ocean and drowning in the middle of nowhere.
As the undetermined time passes, Pi realizes that they have traveled across the whole Pacific Ocean and arrived to Mexico. Pi bids farewell to Richard Parker, as the wild animal goes back into his true home, running off into the forests, never to be seen again. Pi is given medical attention immediately as he suffers from both physical and mental instability. After providing him with the food and water, he is brought into the Japanese Ministry of Transport and is questioned by two officials who happen to be in the Maritime Department of the aforementioned Ministry. As the officials are done questioning Pi about his experience for the past number of days or even months, their transcript states that they were not entirely satisfied with Pi’s story. Meaning, they did not believe the story as Pi had explained it and think that there are potential loopholes in the story and a very big possibility that whatever Pi stated, was false, maybe entirely. Although Pi sticks to his initial story in the beginning, he then states a new story which says that he was actually aboard his lifeboat with his mother, a crew member from the ship, and a French cook who was very foul-mouthed. He also states that the French cook eventually kills his mother along with the crew member. Pi eventually tells them that he slit the cook’s throat and observed him passing away from the cut.
The two inquirers say that they were finally satisfied with the story, but to them, Pi’s survival with Richard Parker seems to be more fascinating.