A big thanks to my sister Karen for introducing Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi. She was so moved by the story, she even shared me a copy of the novel’s e-book. Fast forward to today, which is nearly a year after, I’m still stuck with Chapter 11. I can’t remember why I suddenly stopped. Perhaps I got busy then, and when I already have the time, my reading preferences have changed.
While still finding my way to finish the book, I can’t help but recall the novel’s 10th chapter. It is short – just four paragraphs, and was about zookeeping and animals’ escape tendencies. The following is an excerpt of the said chapter:
“Yet there will always be animals that seek to escape from zoos. Animals that are kept in unsuitable enclosures are the most obvious example. Every animal has particular habitat needs that must be met. If its enclosure is too sunny or too wet or too empty, if its perch is too high or too exposed, if the ground is too sandy, if there are too few branches to make a nest, if the food trough is too low, if there is not enough mud to wallow in—and so many other ifs—then the animal will not be at peace. It is not so much a question of constructing an imitation of conditions in the wild as of getting to the essence of these conditions. Everything in an enclosure must be just right—in other words, within the limits of the animal’s capacity to adapt…”
“Wild animals that are captured when they are fully mature are another example of escape-prone animals; often they are too set in their ways to reconstruct their subjective worlds and adapt to a new environment.”
“But even animals that were bred in zoos and have never known the wild, that are perfectly adapted to their enclosures and feel no tension in the presence of humans, will have moments of excitement that push them to seek to escape. All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”
“Whatever the reason for wanting to escape, sane or insane, zoo detractors should realize that animals don’t escape to somewhere but from something. Something within their territory has frightened them—the intrusion of an enemy, the assault of a dominant animal, a startling noise—and set off a flight reaction. The animal flees, or tries to…”
The novel’s lead character Pi may have been talking here about the animals that they have been tending at the Pondicherry zoo. However, one can see that the passages from Chapter 10 are also valid for us human beings (who obviously are members of Kingdom Animalia). While we have those opposable thumbs and large brains that set us apart from other animals, we humans have the same tendency to escape from our own perceived “cages” – our homes, our jobs, our society, our own selves, and many others.
Yes, it’s obvious why one flees to another place when he or she is oppressed in some way (think about those who receive below minimum wages and victims of physical abuse). However, I used to wonder, and even find it so illogical, why some people leave their current state of living (which appears to be capable of nourishing more than what one needs) for something that seems to be more uncertain and uncomfortable. Having gone across this particular chapter, it made me realize that it is just inherent for us to go somewhere else: a different place where we can seek the peace that we yearn for.