Pi versus Richard Parker
“In real life, the big fish eats the little fish; that is all.”
During our days at sea, Lua would find her ‘alone time’ on Kalea’s front trampoline early each morning. She would get up just before daybreak and quietly make her way to the bow to do her unique blend of stretching and yoga exercises. She would always end her routine with a few minutes of silent meditation. I think it helped her begin each day with a fresh mind and a renewed connection to herself and to the marvelous world she knew she inhabited.
Bob and I alternated the watch during those early morning hours, so we each got to witness her inspiring early-morning routine, preparing herself for the promise of a new day. ‘Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.’ Those words from H.D. Thoreau came to mind while quietly observing her one morning, breathing in the fresh morning air, stretching her arms out wide to fully embrace the magnificent endless horizon before her.
On one of those mornings, she was kept company by a pod of dolphins playing among Kalea’s twin bow wakes. Occasionally, one would playfully dart from one hull to the other right under the trampoline netting, just inches below Lua, to her great delight. She was overjoyed whenever a dolphin pod would appear for a time to royally escort Kalea on her voyage to her next port of call. People exhale; dolphins chuff. Chuffing is what dolphins do to blow out air and clear their recessed blowhole of water when surfacing. In this way, a dolphin removes the small volume of water sitting on the recessed surface of the blowhole valve so that it does not enter the lungs when inhaling. There is a network of complex nerve endings located in the region of the blowhole. They sense pressure changes so the animal knows when its blowhole is clear of the water and it is safe to breathe. Being in the spray path of a chuffing dolphin, as Lua was one morning while doing her sunrise routine on Kalea’s bow trampoline, is not a common occurrence for a member of the human species. Of course, for ‘Laughing Lua,’ what better way to start the day than with a sweet interspecies kiss in the form of an inverted shower of cold seawater! On that morning during my watch, I had to go forward on the starboard hull to adjust some rigging and did my best not to disturb her.
“Care to join me, Mister Rico?”
She caught me by surprise as she called out to me without ever turning her freshly soaked self around to see who was approaching. Perhaps she was already familiar with the unique way I would spring about on the deck. I replied,
“Not my thing.”
“That’s okay, Mister Rico. I suppose singing and playing your guitar gives you the same sense of harmony and balance.”
“Sure does. But I can’t say the same for my audience.”
We arrived on the shores of the island of Atai on the morning of day five. The plan was to have lunch on the island and enjoy some firm ground under our feet for a few hours before heading out at sunset for our long final passage to Rarotonga. We nudged the boat up onto the beach and were greeted by a small group of locals who had seen us approaching. Several of them recognized Lua, and one fellow welcomed her with a warm embrace before rushing back into town. He returned a short while later with several fillets of fresh-caught Mahi Mahi.
Lua prepared the fish for lunch, Polynesian style: marinated with soy sauce, cinnamon, ginger and cloves and pan fried with pineapple juice and curry powder, and served with asparagus. Captain Bob and I brought over the chairs and tables and the large canopy tent. We set up our open base camp on the beach and let the passengers explore along the shoreline and mingle with the locals for a few hours while we started the fire and made preparations for lunch. Jack commented on how he was imaging that we had arrived at the algae island featured in the book, Life of Pi,
“Wouldn’t it be cool to walk into the center of this island and be welcomed by thousands of meerkats hanging around pools of clear deep blue water, perhaps wearing pink sunglasses, sipping on piña coladas, and listening to Bob Marley tunes.”
Lua responded with her usual laughter,
“That would be marvelous!”
Tucker obviously wasn’t impressed with the fantasy adventure novel that became a blockbuster hit movie. It was a story about an Indian boy with the odd name Piscine Molitor ″Pi″ Patel, named after a famous swimming pool in France. Perhaps he didn’t care for, or understand, its emphasis on religion and spirituality, and its message on the relativity of truth,
“That was a ridiculous and pointless book.”
In the story, the boy miraculously survives 227 days at sea after a shipwreck kills his entire family. He is stranded on a small lifeboat in the company of, absurdly enough, a fierce 450-pound Bengal tiger curiously named ‘Richard Parker.’ Jack saw that Tucker was not getting the whole point of the novel,
“The author is suggesting that life is a story, and we can choose the story by which we live. He is making the point that perhaps a story with God in it is a better story.”
Tucker wasn’t buying it,
“The only character that was interesting to me was that large Bengal tiger, that ‘Richard Parker.’ He should have devoured the frail Indian boy Pi at the end. In real life, the big fish eats the little fish; that is all. Stories shouldn’t mislead about the way the real world works.”
Jack explained that, in the story, the boy uses the power of human reasoning and intelligence to overcome fear and keep the menacing cat at bay. He understands and exploits the power of an alpha animal to tame a physically superior adversary. And if life were as simple as Tucker claimed, humans would never have emerged from the African savanna, where big cats and other dangerous predators ruled. For it is our ability to reason, to evaluate, and to cooperate that makes us the dominant species on the planet. Cooperation within a species trumps competition among species. And perhaps religion has had an important part to play in our amazing evolutionary success story.
Tucker responded, hoping to rile up the increasingly annoying know-it-all treehugger. He didn’t like being lectured by Jack on the ‘deeper meaning’ of some silly, inconsequential book,
“But some of us clearly compete better than others.”
Jack shot back,
“Of course, but you have been competing for wealth in a society where money has largely become detached from anything of real value.”
Jack argued that creating an addicting website or app that hooks people by exploiting their weaknesses, for example, does not add much value to human civilization or our future prospects. We have reality-TV, sex-tape stars creating apps where the objective of the game is to create your own aspiring celebrity and rise to fame and fortune. Throughout the game, the host provides advice to players to help them maneuver their way to coveted A-list celebrity status. Dating famous people will get you more fans, too. This game became a multi-million-dollar app and netted the star tens of millions of dollars. There is little correlation between the extraordinary wealth earned from that kind of thing and any real value to society.
Tucker was getting annoyed and sensed that he was losing what little support he had left in the group. Even Jan seemed to be drifting away. He had to fight back,
“C’mon Jack, scientists like you are just too passive and insecure to compete in the tough cut-throat world of business. Or perhaps you are just too afraid to play with the big boys.”
“I don’t see it that way, Tucker. I’ve known many hyper-competitive bullish businessmen like you that are just too dense to perceive and appreciate the tremendous beauty, wonder, and power of the natural world. Everything is understood better with a deep look into Nature, you know, including yourself. But you only value money and social status because your mind has been dulled by perverse societal values and the false notion of alpha maleness in a money economy of fantasy wealth. Perhaps, if you weren’t so shallow and simple-minded, you’d appreciate what I’m saying to you.”
“Screw you, nature boy!”