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India influenced me to write ‘Life of Pi’: Yann Martel

Speaking at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival, the Man Booker prize-winning author called India as the “major influence” for “Life of Pi”, and shared the story of how the basic idea of the book dawned upon him when he was standing on a rock at a hill station near Mumbai. After having written two books without reaching anywhere, famed author Yann Martel was distraught for the lack of a new idea, and then “Life of Pi” came to him “all in one moment” of clarity.

“I was on this rock at a hill station near Mumbai looking at life… saying to myself ‘I am in my 30s, I have written two books that had gone nowhere, I am screwed’. And I am on the top of this rock when a rock came together, it made me remember a novella I had completely forgotten about and its premise of the shipwreck and I thought I could do something here… and ‘Life of Pi’ came to me all in one moment basically,” he said.

The novella he mentioned is “Max and Cats” by Brazilian writer Moacyr Sclair. He added that “India nourished him” at a time when he was “drying up”. That said, Martel noted that ultimately it was his quest to understand the “mechanism of religious faith” that made him write the book.

“‘Life of Pi’ was to understand faith. Faith is a leap into the unknown. It makes you suspend your disbelief, a religion makes you suspend your disbelief. if it does not then it is a cult. And cult is a negative thing,” he said.

The 55-year-old author’s love for India is not new, and he described it as a “thought provoking” and “philosophically engaging” country. Having visited the country many times, the writer said that he hasn’t seen such diversity as India anywhere else. “The first time I met a Sadhu here, he was half-naked, he had a white mass of beard and was holding a trident, and I said wow this is one extreme of how one can live and then you also have India of democracy, science, logic, Nobel prize winners, civilisational achievements,” said the Canada-based author.

Replying to a question whether he picks his books again, said the author whose last book was ‘The High Mountains of Portugal’ though replied in negative, did explain why he never re-reads any of his book. “I never re-read my stuff. In fact that is the reason I forget my own book and make mistakes. Like I said, I wrote ‘Life of Pie’ to understand faith and now I understand faith. Why should I bother reading it again? I have moved on and it is a past incarnation of my curiosity now. Martel is presently working on a novel based on Trojan War.

“Life of Pi”, a 2001 novel, is a story of a 16-year-old boy who survives a shipwreck and is adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. The novel was adapted into a movie in 2012, which won as many as four Oscars.


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