We learn that Pi is now working, though he does not say anything about his profession. We also learn that Pi misses India and loves Canada, and that he misses someone named Richard Parker. Pi’s father, Santosh Patel, used to run the Pondicherry Zoo, and Pi explains that he grew up thinking the zoo was paradise. He discusses the ritualistic habits of zoo creatures. Pi remembers the alarm-clock precision of the roaring lions and the howler monkeys, the songs that are birds’ daily rites, the hours of day at which various animals could be counted on to entertain him. He defends zoos against those who would rather the animals were kept in the wild. He argues that wild creatures are at the mercy of nature, while zoo creatures live a life of luxury and constancy. Pi tells us that the Pondicherry Zoo is now shut down and that many people now hold both zoos and religions in disrepute.
Though given only a brief mention, Pi’s reference of his thesis on sixteenth-century Kabbalist Isaac Luria’s cosmogony theory is very important to the book as a whole. In essence, Luria’s theory of creation states that God contracted to make room for the universe. This contraction, called Tsimstum, was followed by light, carried in five vessels. The vessels shattered, causing the sparks of light to sink into matter. God reordered them into five figures, which became the dimensions of our created reality. This seemingly unimportant detail actually foreshadows the main event to come: the sinking of the ship, the Tsimtsum, which gives Pi the room to create his own version of the events that follow. Interestingly, like the five figures that make up reality for Luria, five characters on the lifeboat (including Pi himself) shape Pi’s story.
We return to Pi’s Pondicherry narrative, and he remembers his favorite teacher, Mr. Satish Kumar. Mr. Kumar is an atheist communist with whom Pi feels a deep kinship. In fact, Pi says, atheists are simply people of a different faith, with strong beliefs. It is agnostics, full of doubt and uncertainty and devoid of faith, whom Pi cannot stomach. Pi describes in vivid detail the day his father fed a live goat to a caged tiger to teach Pi and his brother, Ravi, about the danger posed by wild animals. But, according to a sign in the zoo, the most dangerous animal of all is man. Piscine explains flight distance—the minimum distance at which an animal will tolerate a potential predator or enemy. Getting animals used to the presence of humans, he continues, is the key to the smooth running of a zoo and may be accomplished by creating a good enclosure, providing food and water, and knowing each animal well. Taken care of in this way, zoo animals rarely if ever run back to the wild. On the exceptional occasions when they do, it is usually because someone or something has invaded their territory and frightened them away.
Pi describes how, one day on holiday, when he was fourteen, he came across a church and, although he had never been in one before, stepped across the threshold. Inside, Father Martin told him the…