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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 63)

2006-08-22 21:28

  CHAPTER    63

  The Robertson family survived thirty-eight days at sea. Captain Bligh of the celebrated mutinous Bounty and his fellow castaways survived forty-seven days. Steven Callahan survived seventy-six. Owen Chase, whose account of the sinking of the whaling ship Essex by a whale inspired Herman Melville, survived eighty-three days at sea with two mates, interrupted by a one-week stay on an inhospitable island. The Bailey family survived 118 days. I have heard of a Korean merchant sailor named Poon, I believe, who survived the Pacific for 173 days in the 1950s.

  I survived 227 days. That's how long my trial lasted, over seven months.

  I kept myself busy. That was one key to my survival. On a lifeboat, even on a raft, there's always something that needs doing. An average day for me, if such a notion can be applied to a castaway, went like this:

  Sunrise to mid-morning:

  wake up

  prayers

  breakfast for Richard Parker

  general inspection of raft and lifeboat, with particular attention paid to all knots and ropes

  tending  of solar  stills  (wiping,  inflating,  topping  off with water)

  breakfast and inspection of food stores

  fishing and preparing of fish  if any caught  (gutting, cleaning, hanging of strips of flesh on lines to cure in the sun)

  Mid-morning to late afternoon:

  prayers

  light lunch

  rest and restful activities (writing in diary, examining of scabs and sores, upkeeping of equipment, puttering about locker, observation and study of Richard Parker, picking-at of turtle bones, etc.)

  Late afternoon to early evening:

  prayers

  fishing and preparing of fish

  tending of curing strips of flesh (turning over, cutting away of putrid parts)

  dinner preparations

  dinner for self and Richard Parker

  Sunset:

  general inspection of raft and lifeboat (knots and ropes again)

  collecting and safekeeping of distillate from solar stills

  storing of all foods and equipment arrangements for night (making of bed, safe storage on raft of flare, in case of ship, and rain catcher, in case of rain)

  prayers

  Night:

  fitful sleeping

  prayers

  Mornings were usually better than late afternoons, when the emptiness of time tended to make itself felt.

  Any number of events affected this routine. Rainfall, at any time of the day or night, stopped all other business; for as long as it fell, I held up the rain catchers and was feverishly occupied storing their catch. A turtle's visit was another major disruption. And Richard Parker, of course, was a regular disturbance. Accommodating him was a priority I could not neglect for an instant. He didn't have much of a routine beyond eating, drinking and sleeping, but there were times when he stirred from his lethargy and rambled about his territory, making noises and being cranky. Thankfully, every time, the sun and the sea quickly tired him and he returned to beneath the tarpaulin, to lying on his side again, or flat on his stomach, his head on top of his crossed front legs.

  But there was more to my dealings with him than strict necessity. I also spent hours observing him because it was a distraction. A tiger is a fascinating animal at any time, and all the more so when it is your sole companion.

  At first, looking out for a ship was something I did all the time, compulsively. But after a few weeks, five or six, I stopped doing it nearly entirely.

  And I survived because I made a point of forgetting. My story started on a calendar day-July 2nd, 1977-and ended on a calendar day-February 14th, 1978-but in between there was no calendar. I did not count the days or the weeks or the months. Time is an illusion that only makes us pant. I survived because I forgot even the very notion of time.

  What I remember are events and encounters and routines, markers that emerged here and there from the ocean of time and imprinted themselves on my memory. The smell of spent hand-flare shells, and prayers at dawn, and the killing of turtles, and the biology of algae, for example. And many more. But I don't know if I can put them in order for you. My memories come in a jumble.

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