Saturday, July 24, 2010

Life of Pi

I went into HMV last week to explore the latest offers and, to my great surprise, the first aisle I went down was full of books. Piles and piles of books! What was going on?!
It was of even greater shock when I left HMV with
no £3 CD,
no £3 DVD,
just a £2 book.
This was quite a revolution.

I'm not even sure what attracted me to 'Life of Pi' either.
Perhaps it was the mathematically alluring title.
All I knew about the book was the blurb on the back. My new purchase was about a 'boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, a female orang-utan, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.'
Apparently it was 'vivid and enhancing', 'a great adventure story' and 'ultimately uplifting.'
But most books say that on the back.
This blurb was hardly knockout.
It hardly screamed 'buy me, buy me, buy me.'

If I'd have known then what I know now, I would have leapt at the shelves as if they contained a newly released Coldplay album.

The central character, Pi, is a teenager of great faith. So great in fact, that somehow by the age of sixteen - though his Father is 'rich, modern and as secular as ice cream' - Pi has chosen to be committed to three major religions. He is a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian.

Now there is a knockout, 'buy me, buy me' premise for a book, if ever I saw one.

I haven't finished the book yet. I look forward to discovering quite how the hyena, zebra, orang-utan and tiger play themselves into the plot. But I have been gripped by the opening 74 pages. And it was Pi's gritty wrestling with Christianity, and in particular Jesus, that most alerted my eyes, quickened my pulse, glued my hands to the pages and left my heart dancing to a samba beat:
'That a god should put up with adversity, I could understand. The gods of Hinduism face their fair share of thieves, bullies, kidnappers and usurpers. What is the Ramanya but the account of one long, bad day for Rama? Adversity, yes. Reversals of fortune, yes. Treachery, yes. But humiliation? Death? I couldn't imagine Lord Krishna consenting to be stripped, naked, whipped, mocked, dragged through the streets and, to top it off, crucified - and at the hands of mere humans, to boot. I'd never heard of a Hindu god dying ... Divinity should not be blighted by death. It's wrong. ... It was wrong of this Christian God to let His avatar die. That is tantamount to letting a part of Himself die ... But once a dead God, always a dead God, even resurrected. The Son must have the taste of death forever in his mouth. The Trinity must be tainted by it; there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God the Father. The horror must be real. Why would God wish that upon Himself? Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect?
Love. That was Father Martin's answer.

...There is the story of Vishnu incarnated as Vamana the dwarf. He asks of demon king Bali only as much land as he can cover in three strides. Bali laughs at this runt of a suitor and his puny request. He consents. Immediately Vishnu takes on his full cosmic size. With one stride he covers the earth, with the second the heavens, and with the third he boots Bali into the netherworld.
...This is God as God should be. With shine and power and might. Such as can rescue and save and put down evil.
This Son on the other hand, who goes hungry, who suffers from thirst, who gets tired, who is sad, who is anxious, who is heckled and harassed, who has to put up with followers who don't get it and opponents who don't respect Him - what kind of a god is that?
...This Son is a god who walked - and in a hot place, at that - with a stride like any human stride ... and when he splurged on transportation, it was a regular donkey. This Son is a god who died in three hours, with moans, gasps and laments. What kind of god is that? What is there to inspire in this Son?
Love, said Father Martin.

...He bothered me this Son. Every day I burned with greater indignation against Him, found more flaws to Him.
...I couldn't get Him out of my head. Still can't. I spent three solid days thinking about Him. The more He bothered me, the less I could forget Him. And the more I learnt about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him.

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