Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Carnivorous Island

As a young child in search of wondrous books, I had stumbled on Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. The book promised to restore your faith, and I was at a crossroad those days- a crossroad where I would stay for a considerable amount of time. Little did I know that I was holding a life changer in my hands. It was the book that questioned the faith, ideas of believability and the nature of human-ness. It was a book that asked you to ponder about your beliefs, and how you arrived at those beliefs. But for now, let’s just look at a little (though definitely not insignificant) chapter in the book.

For the uninitiated, Life of Pi is the story of a boy Pi who escapes a ship-wreck in a boat stuck with a tiger, a zebra and an orang-utan. Drifting in the high seas and nearly dying of hunger and thirst, Pi and the tiger stumble on a wondrous island of tropical greenery. Delighted at their fortune, the two take their time in making themselves at home, enjoying the riches that the Island provides them. It is inhabited only by Meerkats, which are extremely social creatures who are notable for their erect stance, acting as sentry for the tribe watching for imminent dangers. Pi notices that despite the beauty of the island in the day, something is amiss at the night. The Meerkats rush to the trees and leave the ground, causing a perplexed Pi to follow suit. Over the course of the story, he understands that the Island is a carnivorous one, drugging the inhabitants who are unable to escape to trees in the night and digesting them. Terrorized, Pi realise that his own life is in danger. He wonders why the Meerkats are still living in the island despite knowing the terrible secret that the island houses. He realizes that the Meerkats are too complacent with their lives and probably have not theorised about a life away from the Island. In his moment of realization, Pi leaves the island and the tiger follows him to the boat.

Quite an implausible story, many might add. Given the whole nature of the story is mystical and the chief narrator Pi is unreliable in his recollections, it is quite difficult for most to understand the significance of this particular chapter. So was the case with me, until a sleepless night caused me to open this book and read those lines again.

Religion- what a relief it must have been for the ancients. At an age when people could not decipher what the globe of fire that rose in the east and gave light and heat to the world, when people could not understand who it is that showers rains upon the parched lands, religion offered an explanation, a refuge. At a time when moral debates and philosophies had not yet emerged, religion was their sole beacon of light. Promise of an all-powerful being at the helm must surely have brought some comfort to the men of old. The fear of retribution of a vengeful god prevented men from pillaging their neighbour’s wealth. For the common man, it was an oasis, an island. After years of drifting in the high seas of fear of the unknown, subject to the capriciousness of ignorance, the fruits of religion and god must have seemed sweet to the common man.

Slowly, we all turned to Meerkats, comfortable in the sunlight of faith. Some of us may have noticed those who were consumed by the carnivorous island. Religious riots, the crusades, the executions by the Church, the purges. Yet, we chose to stay, too complacent to consider an alternative. Like Meerkats, we stood and watched at the distance for a predator, unaware of the dangers lurking right beneath our feat. We bequeathed our power to reason, our power to theorize to this island. Yet, some of us Meerkats have escaped. And in these modern times, whence Science has developed to such an extent that it answers most questions logically, we should realize there is a raft for us to escape. Of course, it is a choice that only the brave can make. The meek may inherit the earth, but the sole legacy that the Meerkats may inherit is one of lack of will and complacence.

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