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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 65)

2006-08-22 21:28

  CHAPTER   65

  I spent hours trying to decipher the lines in the survival manual on navigation. Plain and simple explanations on living off the sea were given in abundance, but a basic knowledge of seafaring was assumed by the author of the manual. The castaway was to his mind an experienced sailor who, compass, chart and sextant in hand, knew how he found his way into trouble, if not how he would get out of it. The result was advice such as “Remember, time is distance. Don't forget to wind your watch,” or “Latitude can be measured with the fingers, if need be.” I had a watch, but it was now at the bottom of the Pacific. I lost it when the Tsimtsum sank. As for latitude and longitude, my marine knowledge was strictly limited to what lived in the sea and did not extend to what cruised on top of it. Winds and currents were a mystery to me. The stars meant nothing to me. I couldn't name a single constellation. My family lived by one star alone: the sun. We were early to bed and early to rise. I had in my life looked at a number of beautiful starry nights, where with just two colours and the simplest of styles nature draws the grandest of pictures, and I felt the feelings of wonder and smallness that we all feel, and I got a clear sense of direction from the spectacle, most definitely, but I mean that in a spiritual sense, not in a geographic one. I hadn't the faintest idea how the night sky might serve as a road map. How could the stars, sparkle as they might, help me find my way if they kept moving?

  I gave up trying to find out. Any knowledge I might gain was useless. I had no means of controlling where I was going-no rudder, no sails, no motor, some oars but insufficient brawn. What was the point of plotting a course if I could not act on it? And even if I could, how should I know where to go? West, back to where we came from? East, to America? North, to Asia? South, to where the shipping lanes were? Each seemed a good and bad course in equal measure.

  So I drifted. Winds and currents decided where I went. Time became distance for me in the way it is for all mortals-I travelled down the road of life-and I did other things with my fingers than try to measure latitude. I found out later that I travelled a narrow road, the Pacific equatorial counter-current.

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