Pi tells the story of Richard Parker’s capture. A panther had been killing people near Bangladesh, and a professional hunter was called in to try to capture it. Leaving a goat as bait, the hunter instead attracted two tigers, a mother and her cub. The hunter sedated the mother and picked up the cub, sending them both off to the Pondicherry Zoo. In the accompanying paperwork, the name of the hunter who had picked up the cub, Richard Parker, gets mixed up with the name of the cub, Thirsty. The mix-up so amuses Mr. Patel that he decides to call the tiger cub Richard Parker.
Back on the lifeboat, Pi is so certain the tiger will kill him that he actually cheers up a bit. There’s nothing he can do now. Suddenly he is overcome by thirst and explores the lifeboat looking for water. He observes the details of the boat: its benches and oarlocks, its bright orange color, its dimensions—twenty-six feet long and eight feet wide. Pi discovers a locker containing emergency supplies under the end of the lifeboat under the tarpaulin, where Richard Parker has his “den.” Carefully, he opens the locker and assesses the contents, greedily drinking some canned water and eagerly eating emergency rations. He tallies his supplies: he has
Pi decides that to survive with Richard Parker as a companion he needs to build a raft to put some distance between himself and the tiger. He creates a raft using oars, a lifebuoy, and life jackets, then tethers it to the lifeboat. As he is doing so, the hyena starts whining and Richard Parker begins to growl. The tiger kills the hyena, who dies without a whimper. Richard Parker turns around and starts to approach Pi but gets distracted by the rolling of the boat and the bounciness of the tarpaulin. At that moment, a rat appears and runs up onto Pi’s head. Pi grabs and throws the rat at Richard Parker, who devours it, giving Pi just enough time to escape into his raft.
The raft proves seaworthy, but Pi knows he is floating just above a vast ocean, with sharks all around. Rain falls and Pi uses a rain catcher to trap fresh water for drinking. He continually checks the knots in the ropes holding together the parts of the raft. Unable to sleep, he entertains fanciful ways of killing Richard Parker. Finally Pi decides to wait for the tiger to run out of water and starve. The next day he realizes the flaws in his plan: Bengal tigers can swim and drink saline water. If Richard Parker gets hungry, he will jump into the ocean and swim out to Pi. If he gets thirsty, he will drink seawater.
For now, though, Richard Parker is sated, having drunk rainwater and feasted on the hyena. While looking at Pi, he makes an unusual noise that sounds like prusten. Pi recognizes it as the rare sound tigers use to express harmless intentions. At this moment, Pi decides to try to tame Richard Parker. He uses a whistle on one of the lifejackets as a whip and shouts across the water to prove his alpha status. Richard Parker intensely dislikes the sound of the whistle and lies down in the bottom of the lifeboat.
Fear takes numerous forms in the text, but its very omnipresence eventually reduces its power over Pi. As a narrator, Pi is terribly self-aware, and he recognizes and even catalogs some of the gradations of anxiety he feels from minute to minute: the blind terror he feels when he jumps into the ocean only to see a shark fin slice through the water; the defensive panic that comes from facing down a carnivorous, hungry hyena; his dread over his family’s fate. Pi’s enormous and all-encompassing fear of Richard Parker has an odd expression: it makes him feel a little better. With Richard Parker aboard the boat, death is inevitable, not just a possibility. Because of this fact, Pi can stop worrying about what might happen; he can instead be comforted by knowing what will happen, regardless of how horrible that fate is. Accepting his own death makes his fear less paralyzing and enables him to take action.
Pi’s fear is tempered somewhat by Richard Parker’s unexpected and welcome snort of prusten, a tiger’s way of stating that his intentions are benevolent. Rather than demonstrating his pure animalistic brute strength, Richard Parker does a quasi-human thing: he indicates a willingness to negotiate. This occurrence more than any other equips Pi with the courage to begin training the tiger. While Pi’s early inclination is to run as far away from Richard Parker as he can—as far as the lifeline between the lifeboat and raft will allow—the tiger’s affable snort brings him back. He begins to reconsider boarding the lifeboat and not confining himself to his raft.
This movement of Pi and Richard Parker toward one another, the literal lessening of physical distance, underscores a message that Martel will amplify over the course of the novel: animals and humans aren’t such different creatures after all. Earlier in the novel Pi says that omega animals (such as Richard Parker) will often be obedient to a human trainer in an effort to climb up the social hierarchy, tolerating what they perceive as the human alpha creature’s odd demands. In essence, they mimic human behavior in the same way that Pi, out of respect for Richard Parker, mimics the tiger. It is significant, too, that the tiger bears a man’s name, while Pi could be a shortened form of the word pisces, or fish. Martel has built zoomorphic ambiguity right into their names, pointing out quite strongly the gray area between humanity and animal nature.