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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 58)

2006-08-22 21:28

  CHAPTER   58

  I pulled out the survival manual. Its pages were still wet. I turned them carefully. The manual was written by a British Royal Navy commander. It contained a wealth of practical information on surviving at sea after a shipwreck. It included survival tips such as:

  Always read instructions carefully.

  Do not drink urine. Or sea water. Or bird blood.

  Do not eat jellyfish. Or fish that are armed with spikes. Or that have parrot-like beaks. Or that puff up like balloons.

  Pressing the eyes of fish will paralyze them.

  The body can be a hero in battle. If a castaway is injured, beware of well-meaning but ill-founded medical treatment. Ignorance is the worst doctor, while rest and sleep are the best nurses.

  Put up your feet at least five minutes every hour.

  Unnecessary exertion should be avoided. But an idle mind tends to sink, so the mind should be kept occupied with whatever light distraction may suggest itself. Playing card games, Twenty Questions and I Spy With My Little Eye are  excellent  forms of simple  recreation. Community singing is another sure-fire way to lift the spirits. Yarn spinning is also highly recommended.

  Green water is shallower than blue water.

  Beware of far-off clouds that look like mountains. Look for green. Ultimately, a foot is the only good judge of land.

  Do not go swimming. It wastes energy. Besides, a survival craft may drift faster than you can swim. Not to mention

  the danger of sea life. If you are hot, wet your clothes instead.

  Do not urinate in your clothes. The momentary warmth is not worth the nappy rash.

  Shelter yourself. Exposure can kill faster than thirst or hunger.

  So long as no excessive water is lost through perspiration, the body can survive up to fourteen days without water. If

  you feel thirsty, suck a button.

  Turtles are an easy catch and make for excellent meals. Their blood is a good, nutritious, salt-free drink; their

  flesh is tasty and filling; their fat has many uses; and the castaway will find turtle eggs a real treat. Mind the beak

  and the claws.

  Don't let your morale flag. Be daunted, but not defeated. Remember: the spirit, above all else, counts. If you have

  the will to live, you will. Good luck!

  There were also a few highly cryptic lines distilling the art and science of navigation. I learned that the horizon, as seen from a height of five feet on a calm day, was two and a half miles away.

  The injunction not to drink urine was quite unnecessary. No one called “Pissing” in his childhood would be caught dead with a cup of pee at his lips, even alone in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific. And the gastronomic suggestions only confirmed to my mind that the English didn't know the meaning of the word food. Otherwise, the manual was a fascinating pamphlet on how to avoid being pickled in brine. Only one important topic was not addressed: the establishing of alpha-omega relationships with major lifeboat pests.

  I had to devise a training program for Richard Parker. I had to make him understand that I was the top tiger and that his territory was limited to the floor of the boat, the stern bench and the side benches as far as the middle cross bench. I had to fix in his mind that the top of the tarpaulin and the bow of the boat, bordered by the neutral territory of the middle bench, was my territory and utterly forbidden to him.

  I had to start fishing very soon. It would not take long for Richard Parker to finish the animal carcasses. At the zoo the adult lions and tigers ate on average ten pounds of meat a day.

  There were many other things I had to do. I had to find a means of sheltering myself. If Richard Parker stayed under the tarpaulin all the time, it was for a good reason. To be continuously outside, exposed to sun, wind, rain and sea, was exhausting, and not only to the body but also to the mind. Hadn't I just read that exposure could inflict a quick death? I had to devise some sort of canopy.

  I had to tie the raft to the lifeboat with a second rope, in case the first should break or become loose.

  I had to improve the raft. At present it was seaworthy, but hardly habitable. I would have to make it fit for living in until I could move to my permanent quarters on the lifeboat. For example, I had to find a way to stay dry on it. My skin was wrinkled and swollen all over from being constantly wet. That had to change. And I had to find a way to store things on the raft.

  I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway's worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one's life away.

  There was much I had to do.

  I looked out at the empty horizon. There was so much water. And I was all alone. All alone.

  I burst into hot tears. I buried my face in my crossed arms and sobbed. My situation was patently hopeless.

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