Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Enemy Within


I celebrated the onset of the summer vacation watching Life of Pi on Star Movies.  I haven’t read the novel and hence don’t know how far the movie is loyal to it.  Experience has taught me that movies generally do much injustice to written texts.  I liked the movie, however.

The tiger as well as the other animals on the lifeboat may be an invention of Pi.  Though he tells us another story replacing the animals with human characters, he leaves us with the option of choosing between the two tales, without ever telling us conclusively which the real version is.

The film is a kind of fable with a moral.  Religions and gods are as good as stories and myths in man’s attempt to discover meaning in life, shows the movie.  They are all palliatives in times of anguish.  Man liberates himself from his pains by transmuting the pain into a narrative.  Religion does the same thing in a slightly different way.  Perhaps, religion has the added advantage in the form of omnipotent and omniscient god(s); gods who care so much that they can incarnate in the form of a fish for the sake of a hungry tiger or a god who can send his own son to suffer and die on a cross. 

Pi believes that his tale can lead others to god(s).  God (let me use the singular form for the sake of convenience) helps in dealing with trauma of all sorts.  God is a soothing balm, if not a subliminal drug.  God gives hope in times of absolute despair.  God makes life meaningful when the going is the toughest. 

God helps to keep the enemy within us (the wild tiger or the rapacious hyena) under control.  There is wild creature within all of us.  We have to confront it and come to terms with it if we are to live happily.  Pi confronts the tiger within himself, a creature that is wild and untameable.  He learns eventually various strategies to keep the beast under control.  Finally the beast will leave him without as much as a grateful look, in spite of all that he has done to keep it alive.

Pi could not have killed the tiger; it was an integral part of himself.  It was his alter ego.  It his enemy that is within himself.   He has gained mastery over that enemy in the way that is possible: partial subjugation and a lot of love. 

Learning to love the wild side within us is important if we are to love ourselves properly.  When we fail to do that, we end up inflicting others with the all viciousness of the brute. 

I liked the movie and may not read the novel.  Perhaps, I won’t be able to accept Yann Martel’s views on god and religion.  While I accept the therapeutic value of religion and god, I remain a non-believer.  Worse, I’m an agnostic in theory.  I understand that the novel is totally opposed to agnosticism because it is noncommittal.  Atheism is better because it is assertive; it believes that there is no god.  Some belief, a leap of faith, is far more valuable than being noncommittal, according to Martel, as I understand. 


The problem, here, however, is that faith is not really one’s choice.  I tried my best to believe but couldn’t.  Yet I find myself drawn irresistibly to religious figures like Jesus and the Buddha.  I find Mahatma Gandhi’s view on religion much more charming than his political views.  Myths hold much fascination for me.  But faith?  No.  That’s one of the aspects of the tiger within me, I guess.  I prefer to be honest to myself and accept the tiger as my own.  


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12 comments:

  1. I am strongly stringed with my faith. :) Our beliefs do mismatch. But my opinion regarding the animal within is very same as you or the movie. I sometimes get so upset regarding my negative face that I write melancholic poem expressing and cursing myself. It's so difficult to accept the beast inside when you know that it hurts those who you love. If we not accept it we cannot live in peace. I have experienced this.

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    1. Being aware of the beast within is itself a great thing, Namrata. Coming to terms with it takes time. I speak from experience.

      Never mind the disparity between our beliefs. Some of my best friends are deeply religious people. :)

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  2. We should always be aware of the animal within us and should know how to restrain the beast.

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    1. Yes, Maniparna. Also love that beast! Otherwise the beast remains "the man within me who is angry with me," as a famous writer wrote.

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  3. That's quite a refreshing outlook.While all of us latch on to good old dependable faith, you seem to be enthralled by the mysteries of myths.Interesting!

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    1. Mystery, yes. You put it wonderfully well. I think I'm in love with the mystery of life.

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  4. I think the movie tells us about our capacity to tolerate what we have difficulty in believing. So the real story of Pi is on the boat with tiger. But if you want to hear a story that you could believe in, then the second story is for you.

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    1. Yes, Pankaj, the movie is about creating a narrative in order to deal with the trauma of life. I think Yann Martel, the author, thinks that religion is a better narrative than fiction. That's where I differ. But personally I would accept the tiger story rather than the one with human characters. That's because I love myths.

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  5. Learning to love the wild side within us is important if we are to love ourselves properly. When we fail to do that, we end up inflicting others with the all viciousness of the brute. --- How could we do it practically, though I understand the point, sir. What is to be actually done to love the wild side within us? I may be really needing it. As usual, a blog - I mean, a movie review - with a different perspective.

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    1. It's not a review, M. It's me raving as usual.

      When I know I'm raving and I know I love my raving, I'm beginning to love myself.

      When I think that I'm speaking words of wisdom when I'm actually raving and I don't know I'm not wise, I'm faced with a tiger.

      Well... I think you will make me a Buddha.

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  6. ha..ha..! You are truly meditating. My daughter in some context gave you as an example for a calm and quiet, peaceful person. congrats!

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