Pi, looking back at his ordeal, says he spent
Back on the raft and lifeboat, Pi busies himself with tasks. His daily schedule consists of chores and activities; he feeds himself and Richard Parker, keeps the vessels clean and functioning smoothly, and stimulates his mind (prayers, writing, and rest). Of the many weeks and months at sea, Pi says he survived only because he managed to forget the very notion of time.
Pi’s clothes disintegrate over time, and the near-constant wetness causes sea boils. Pi reads the survival manual, trying to understand its mysterious clues about navigation, but he is at a loss. He continues to fish, grabbing the fish with his bare hands and chopping their heads off with hatchets. He learns to train a net in the water as a lure, and some days he catches more fish than he can eat. He also learns that turtles are a relatively easy catch. Pi spends many hours observing the sea life collecting on the underside of his raft and eating some of it. He describes the cuminlike smell of signal flares, which never succeed in eliciting a response from rescuers.
Pi butchers a small hawksbill turtle and drinks its blood, which the survival manual recommends as a nutritious and salt-free thirst quencher. Because the turtle is too unwieldy for the raft, Pi must do this butchery on the lifeboat tarpaulin. He decides he needs to train Richard Parker to allow him onto the lifeboat more regularly.
Pi presents a training manual for taming a wild creature in a lifeboat at sea. He then describes his training attempts, during which he goads Richard Parker by stomping on the middle bench of the boat and blowing the whistle. He uses a turtle shell for a shield. During the first training practice, Richard Parker knocks Pi into the water, but Pi persists. Each practice, he catches another turtle and fashions a new shield. Finally, by the fifth shield, he is able to send Richard Parker back into the bottom of the boat by blowing on the whistle and rocking the boat to induce nausea in the tiger.
Pi keeps a diary, writing down mostly practical observations, and carries out religious rituals adapted to his unique situation. He also cleans up after Richard Parker, as part of the training exercise. After Richard Parker defecates (once a month—like Pi, he is constipated from dehydration and a high-protein diet), Pi holds the feces in his hand and blows the whistle angrily to demonstrate dominance. It works: Richard Parker gets nervous. In a moment of supreme hunger, Pi tries to eat the tiger’s feces, but fails.
Pi catches a four-foot mako shark with his bare hands and throws it to Richard Parker, who clubs it with his paw and accidentally gets bitten. Pi takes this as a reminder that the tiger is not perfect. One day, a dorado leaps onto the lifeboat and Pi grabs hold of it. Richard Parker sees the fish and gets into an attack crouch. Pi stares Richard Parker down until he backs away, then throws him a portion of his catch. Pi notes with some disappointment that he has begun wolfing his food down like an animal.
The repetition of activities necessary for life proves distressing for Pi. Biology dictates that animals (humans included) perform the same few essential acts again and again: eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, sleeping, and so on. In ordinary life, such repetition can be comforting. But in the context of a lifeboat in the Pacific, where food and water and everything else are scarce and normalcy has gone out the window, repetition is a curse, a threat. Because there is no regular source of water, the compulsion to drink water every day is a nuisance. Because Pi must wear the same clothes every day, they disintegrate and fall off his body.
The regularity of events on the lifeboat is reminiscent of the habits of animals in the wild or in a zoo, which Pi has remarked on at length earlier in the book. Indeed, the lifeboat itself becomes a sort of zoo enclosure, and the tethered raft serves as a cage, protecting zookeeper from wild creature. Pi feeds Richard Parker just the way a zookeeper would, cleaning up after him in a similar fashion. The entire setup is familiar—clearly, Pi has learned well from his father. Pi follows in Mr. Patel’s footsteps, letting reason and faith in himself to serve as his guides.
New activities lighten the monotony of Pi’s daily life, though they are quickly absorbed into routine. Each “first” in the lifeboat or on the raft is treated in the account with detail and great passion. However, and inevitably, those firsts quickly meld into a monotonous series of repetitions that dull the senses. The first time Pi kills a fish, we are held in thrall as he hesitates and frets over the act. But as soon as it is over, it is as though a spell has broken: Pi is now free to kill as many fish as he can, any way he can, without any sort of guilt. Unlike a wild animal that tends to find any break in its routine disastrous, Pi is pliable, versatile, and resourceful. Even without his devotional objects, he holds onto his religious customs, adapting them and integrating them into his daily routine. Though he is a strict vegetarian, he soon finds himself drinking turtle blood, skinning birds, and eating eyes and brains. It is easy for him to slip into a routine—he becomes a creature of a new habit.