Not really the Muslim life, but spiritual life would have been more apt. Also, spoiler alert.
I finally managed to watch ‘Life of Pi’ yesterday, I say ‘finally’ like I have been wanting to watch it for sometime now, but no – it was just a spur of the moment decision to go and watch it. I didn’t necessarily have it bookmarked as a must watch.
The book has been highly commended and many people whose opinions I trust have recommended it to me and I really did want to read it. I did the mistake however of watching the film first, and I think I may now never read the book. By this I mean not to say that the book has now diminished in my mind as an essential read, but the film I thought was a bit of a drag.
What the film successfully does however is to make it clear how good the book is and why the book must have been so good in the way it elucidates the power and presence of God in our lives. Therefore, if anything the film doesn’t really reduce the impression one may have had of the book.
The film I thought was a bit too long, and there were instances where I would have pressed the forward button if I was watching it at home on a DVD. Pi, the protagonist (a believer of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam) gets stranded in the middle of the ocean after a shipwreck that kills all aboard including his parents and his brother, that was made clear, with that the human mind can associate to some extent the various perils and sufferings that come with being stranded. The film spent a lot of time trying to convey this. Personally, I felt there were instances where time durations could have been cut down, more so when no powerful spiritual or literary message was really being conveyed compared to the time that it was taking. Another good film which had good reviews and yet which I found to be a drag at times is 127 hours, yet another instance where the film tended to focus far too much on reinforcing the suffering of the protagonist upon the viewer when the message surely had been conveyed.
But as a spiritual person and someone who believes in the presence of God, there were poignant moments which struck me and certainly pushed the case for the fact that as humans we aren’t entirely in control of ourselves or our actions. Our actions too are a result of the manoeuvring of us by a far more supreme being.
When Pi was stranded in the middle of the ocean, with nothing to depend on except some emergency supplies he finds on the boat and a Bengal tiger with which he was constantly involved in a battle for life, and yet at the same time kept him alive and alert, one does get the idea that much is said here about life. This is an instance when one really feels helpless and is truly in the hands of God. Many times we come across people or situations in life which are to our lives like the tiger was to Pi in this particular sequence of his life.
The tiger was an apparatus used by a higher power that kept Pi alive by being the significant threat to his life that it was, the fact that Pi had to struggle so much to go to the boat from his little raft to collect supplies at the risk of being eaten up strengthened his resolve and kept him vigilant. When all else was lost and the tiger had nothing else to feed on except to eat Pi, hordes of flying fish suddenly collide with the boat and the boat fills up just enough fish for the tiger and Pi to feast upon, thereby reducing the vulnerability of Pi from being eaten up by the tiger.
Just at that point I was reminded of this Qur’an verse –
وَمَن يَتَّقِ ٱللَّهَ يَجۡعَل لَّهُ ۥ مَخۡرَجً۬ا (٢) وَيَرۡزُقۡهُ مِنۡ حَيۡثُ لَا يَحۡتَسِبُۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلۡ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسۡبُهُ
“And for those who fear God, He (ever) prepares a way out. And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And if anyone puts his trust in God, sufficient is (God) for him.” (Chapter 65 Verses 2-3)
There were numerous instances during the film when I thought that the ideal scene had been set where Pi would perhaps dramatically yell out something similar to the prayer of Prophet Jonah (Yunus for Muslims), but he did not. However, Pi did look towards the skies and cry out in despair that he had lost his parents and everything else, and asked what more God wanted from him.
After leaving the carnivores island, Pi says something to the effect that even though he was in instances of difficulty in numerous occasions and all hope was lost, he sensed that God made His presence felt in one way or the other and despite all the pains and sufferings, he felt that God never abandoned him.
This is when one (I in this instance) realises how every single living and non living construct play a part in our lives and this whilst accomplishing their own purposes of existence, they also come and influence our lives to a certain extent to remind us of the purpose of our existence, and how we should get about our lives, as peoples of faith or otherwise.
Upon reaching the shores of Mexico, Richard Parker (the name of the Tiger) just walks away from Pi, stops for a moment as if to look back at him, and then just continues to walk into the dense forest and Pi never sees him again. This naturally upsets Pi a lot, despite all that the tiger and the boy have been through, through the most perilous moments of their lives, the tiger just walks off without saying good bye. This reminded me of another Quranic story, the story of Moses and Khildr.
Moses had erred by proclaiming that he was extremely knowledgeable and that he knew the mysteries behind all or most things without attributing his strength as coming from God. God sends down Khildr to meet Moses and after three incidents where Moses’ wrong claim to absolute knowledge is established, Khildr goes away, never to be seen on the face of the earth.
The tiger in this instance had a worldly purpose to fullfill, and amongst its scope of work would have been to teach Pi vital lessons of trust, belief, hope and absolute reliance on God.
Sometimes people come into our lives; in their living they fulfil their purpose of existence. But the very purpose of their existence may perhaps be purely as guidance to us who have erred as a mercy from Allah. The soldiers of Allah can take any form, and rarely do we recognise them as soldiers of Allah sent to help believers – but they are there.
Tabarani reports that , “A man came to Abu Darda and said to him, ‘O Abu Darda, your house has burned.’ He said: ‘No, it cannot be burned. Allah will never allow this to happen because of the words that I heard from the Prophet, peace be upon him. Whoever says these words in the beginning of a day, the Prophet, peace be upon him, told us, will not be afflicted by a misfortune until the end of the day, and whoever says these words in the evening will not be afflicted until morning. These words are,
“O Allah, You are my Lord, there is no god but You, I put my trust in You, You are the Lord of the Mighty Throne. Whatever Allah wills will happen and what He does not will, cannot happen. There is no power or strength except with Allah, the Exalted, the Mighty. I know that Allah has power over all things, and Allah comprehends all things in knowledge. O Allah, I seek refuge with You from the evil of myself and from the evil of all creatures under Your control. Surely the straight way is my Sustainers’ way“.
In some versions of this hadith we further find that he said, “Come, let us go. So he went with them to his house. They found all the area surrounding the house burned but his house was not damaged.”
Life of Pi is of book or film that illustrates the life of a man, who believes in all main faiths, yet the lessons derived from it and the resonance it has to Islamic values is truly poignant. Points to those of us who ponder.
For those of you who do not believe in a God, this post will come across as loony. Watch the film or read the book all the same.
Image from here.